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Fates Intervention: The Poisoned Tree

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Previously, in Fates Intervention:

She sucked in a shaky breath. “Jason?”

For the first time in thirteen years, her brother smiled at her. “Hey Thalia.”

 


Once everyone else had filed out of the room, and Will was alone with the gods, Apollo turned to him with a smile. “So,” he said, “what’s wrong?”

“It’s not exactly anything that’s wrong,” Will said carefully. “It’s just that … Well, you know I can’t go into great detail, but last year was difficult.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Apollo said, his smile fading as he looked at his son, somehow much older than his fourteen years.

“We couldn’t deal with it on our own,” Will said. “Neither could Camp Jupiter. So we had to team up.”

There was a sharp intake of breath. Hera put a calming hand on her husband’s arm.

“Was this successful, Will?”

“For the most part, ma’am,” Will said. “I mean, it is now. There were a few … rocky moments. I can’t go into it. Honestly, even if I could, I wouldn’t, because I really don’t know everything.”

“You’re not warning us now for the sake of it,” Athena said, glancing at the books. “We have four more books before that point.”

“I know,” Will said. “But Rachel said that there would be three more readers, right?”

“Who would bridge the empires,” Apollo confirmed. “They’re Roman?”

“Some of them,” Will agreed. “Our theory is that we don’t tell the campers that they’re Roman. Let them believe that they’re Greek and then, by the time the books out them, they’re already like them and everything will be fine.”

“Ambitious,” Athena said. “And very risky. How can you be so sure it will work?”

“Well, if I was dealing with Romans, I wouldn’t be,” Will admitted. “But we’re Greek. Of both sides, we accepted it when we found out and – honestly that’s kind of what happened with us anyway. But I …”
“You can’t go into detail,” Apollo finished. “We know.”

At that point, there was a knock on the throne room door, and Will smiled. “Excellent timing.”

“Come in,” Hera called.

Three demigods entered; a young man of fifteen with blond hair and shockingly blue eyes, and two young women of about the same age, one Native American with choppy brown hair split into two braids, the other Latino in appearance with dark hair in a single braid down her back.

Aphrodite hid a smile, drinking in the sight of one of her younger daughters.

“This is Piper, Reyna and Jason,” Will said, as they bowed. “Piper’s Greek, Reyna’s Roman, and Jason’s kind of got a foot in both camps because of his sister.”

“And who are your parents?” Hestia asked the girls kindly.

“My mother is Bellona,” Reyna answered.

“And mine is Aphrodite,” Piper added, curtseying to her mother.

Aphrodite smiled at her. “How are you, darling? You look tired.”
“I am tired,” Piper admitted. “Exhausted. It’s been a long few weeks.”

“You can sleep in a minute,” Will said. “In a proper bed. For the whole night.”

“Don’t!” Piper said, stifling a yawn. “I’ll never get anything done.”

Jason gave her an affectionate smile. “The plan is to tell the other campers that we can’t tell them who our parents are because it will come up in the books and it’s important.”

“Which isn’t untrue,” Reyna put in.

“Thalia knows,” Hera said. “I would suggest you tell her. Then at least you have someone from that time who is aware.”

“Hera, why does Thalia know?” Zeus asked.

 “Because she needed to know about her brother,” Hera said. “It’s not her fault you were an idiot.”
“Well, we have a great deal to discuss,” Apollo said hastily. “You all look exhausted; go and talk to Thalia and then get some sleep.”

Will was happy to agree quickly, having no wish to get caught up in Zeus’s inevitable protest.

Hestia rose from her spot by the fire. “I will show you to the quarters – will you be alright in the same quarters as the others?”

“I’m sure we’ll manage, ma’am,” Will said. “We can always reassess later if we need to.”

Hestia showed them to the end of the corridor and pointed out the door, before excusing herself to hurry back to help keep the peace.

“Alright, let me go in first,” Will said quietly. “I’ll explain everything to Thalia, and then send Jason in.”

“Got it,” Jason said. “Who else is here?”

Will ran through all of the campers, trying not to stumble over the names of people who had died. Judging by the sympathy on Piper’s face, he wasn’t successful.

“And from after Kronos?” Reyna asked. “Thalia, obviously. And your Oracle.”

“Rachel, yes,” Will confirmed. “And Percy, Annabeth, Nico and Luke Castellan.”

“Luke Castellan?” Piper repeated. “Where do I know that name from?”

Will glanced up and down the corridor to make sure they were definitely alone. “He’s the son of Hermes  who let Kronos out and then got possessed. He died to stop him.”

Piper frowned. “Then how is he here? And why?”

“Fates,” Will said with a shrug. “As for why … I really don’t know. Maybe so his past-self doesn’t get yelled at. Maybe to talk his past self round. It’s certainly worked so far.”

“You don’t think he’s a threat?” Jason asked.

Will sighed. “Not anymore, no. I think if he was, Thalia would be a lot more jumpy. They were best friends, once upon a time.” He stopped at the door and listened intently. “Okay, she’s still awake, which is good, and talking to Luke, which … might not be. Wait here.”

Jason began fidgeting the moment the door was closed.

“Calm down,” Piper said, without even looking at him.

“He was her best friend,” Jason whispered. “Why haven’t I heard about him?”

“Because you’ve spent maybe a couple of hours with her in total and she probably didn’t want to talk about it,” Piper guessed. “I mean, I’m guessing they were friends before the tree incident, in which case she woke up, found out she’d lost her best friend and then he died. And all the while she’s trying to mourn surrounded by girls who hate men.”

“She didn’t strike me as someone in mourning last December,” Jason said.

“No,” Piper agreed. “And burying something like that isn’t healthy.”

Thalia’s voice floated out through the door. “Will, that’s risky. What makes you think it will work?”

Piper poked Jason in the back. “That’s your cue, Sparky.”

Jason took a deep breath and pushed open the door. “It worked for me,” he said, letting the door close behind him.

Thalia looked like she was about to argue, but something stopped her. She rose from the couch and approached him slowly, drinking in the sight of him.

“Jason?”

Jason smiled at her. “Hey Thalia.”

Thalia sucked in a shaky breath, like all the oxygen in her body had suddenly decided to desert her.

The first time he had met her, she had immediately thrown her arms around him, like she was afraid he would disappear.

Then again, she had likely been running on adrenaline, had believed he was dead until she saw him, and – if Piper was right – had been burying at least three months’ worth of grief on top of that.

This version of his sister had known he was alive, but had also known about Camp Jupiter, so had probably been convincing herself that she probably wouldn’t see him again anyway. She moved slowly, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

He stood still, letting her press against the muscle, then grasp his shoulder, then, finally, step right into his space, wrapping her arms around him tightly.

This, at least, was familiar.

Thalia didn’t hug like a sister – at least, not how he imagined a sister.

Reyna was the closest thing he had, and they didn’t hug – and anyway there had been a whole lot of ‘what-if’s surrounding them right up until his disappearance.

Thalia hugged like a mother – or, at least, how he had always imagined a mother would hug.

He was proved right when he met Sally Jackson and, despite his discomfort and stammering apologies, she had swept him in to an embrace, telling him it wasn’t his fault and that she was glad she had at least some answers.

Like Sally, Thalia wrapped her arms around his shoulders, even though he was taller than her, tucking his face into the crook of her neck, where a child’s head would rest.

This hadn’t changed, and Jason hugged her back just as tightly. He hadn’t seen his sister since her last Iris-Message – knowing she was alive only went so far.

After a few moments, Thalia pulled back, taking his face in her hands. “Oh, gods, look at you. You’re all grown up.” She paused. “I told you that stapler would scar.”
Jason chuckled. “I really don’t remember.”

“Well, you were only two,” Thalia said, ushering him over to the sofa. “You look tired, are you okay?”

“It’s been a long few weeks,” Jason said. “We’re all tired.”

“Have you left people out there?” Thalia asked.

“Yeah,” Jason admitted. “They pushed me in first.”
“I’ll go,” Will offered.

“And have I told you everything?” Thalia asked.

“Well, I thought you did,” Jason said. “You told me about the tree and everything. You didn’t mention losing your best friend though. Are you okay?”

“I never told you that part?” Thalia asked.

“No,” Jason said. “But then it’s been a bit of a strange eight months since we met. And, now I think about it, that explains the photos left in Cabin One.”

“Yeah, I didn’t want to take them with me,” Thalia admitted.

“I don’t blame you,” Jason said quietly. “I mean, Camp Jupiter did deal with the Titan War, a little bit – we just figured the gods dealt with Saturn – uh, Kronos. Don’t think I didn’t notice you avoiding the question.”

Thalia smiled weakly. “I’m fine, Jason. At least, I am at the moment; we’ll see how we go. Now are you going to introduce me?”

“Only if you promise me that you’ll talk to someone if you need to,” Jason said.

Thalia’s smile became far more genuine. “I promise.”

“Great.” Jason jumped to his feet. “So this is Reyna Ramirez-Arellano, one of my best friends, and Piper McLean, my girlfriend. One of them’s Greek and the other one’s Roman.”

Thalia shook their hands. “Can I guess?”

Jason shrugged. “If you like.”

Thalia surveyed the two girls. Neither of them was wearing a Camp Half-Blood t-shirt and neither had a beaded necklace, although Piper had feathers woven into her choppy braids.

Reyna was holding herself a little more stiffly, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

Something niggled, and another glance at Jason confirmed it.

“Piper’s Greek.”

Piper’s mouth fell open. “How’d you guess?”

“Well, first of all, you just confirmed it,” Thalia said with a grin. “Secondly, the odds are that Jason would have known a best friend longer than his girlfriend. But thirdly, Jason and Reyna both have a tattoo on their left forearms. I’m not happy about that,” she added to Jason.

“Don’t really have much of a choice,” Jason admitted, holding his arm out. “I guess we’d better cover them.”

“You’re probably right,” Reyna admitted, although she didn’t look happy about it.

“You don’t have to cover them,” Thalia said. “Just wear long sleeves and don’t draw attention to them. SPQR … that was the motto of Rome, right?”

Senatus Populesque Romanus,Jason recited, his voice becoming almost ritualistic. “The Senate and People of Rome. You get your tattoo before your first quest or after your first year of service, whichever comes first, and then you get a bar every year after that.”

Jason’s tattoo had twelve bars.

“Okay,” Thalia said slowly. “I am trying – very hard – not to cast any kind of judgement over the way you guys do things, because, let’s face it, it’s a different culture and you do things differently, but … Tell me they didn’t do that when you were three.”

“I wasn’t in service at three,” Jason assured her. “I was … ten, I think. They just backdated the bars.”

“You were ten,” Reyna said, quietly. “We got ours at the same time.”

Reyna’s had four bars. Also, rather than an eagle, which was on Jason’s arm, she had a crossed torch and sword.

“And the picture?” Thalia asked. “What does that symbolise?”

“That’s our parent,” Jason answered. “The eagle is Jupiter, obviously. We’re not telling you Reyna’s.”

“Is it one I can guess?” Thalia asked.

“Not this time,” Reyna said. “I don’t think there’s a Greek equivalent.”

“No, there kind of is,” Piper disagreed. “It’s just not the alter-ego.”

“Actually, there is a Greek equivalent,” Jason said. “But we’re talking a minor one. Like, really minor.”

“Okay, well, my knowledge of the Roman gods is shaky at best,” Thalia admitted. “So I won’t embarrass myself.”

“Also,” Piper said, “and I may as well say it now before you figure it out, it’s not technically a tattoo.”

Thalia frowned, examining Jason’s arm more closely. Piper was right – now she looked at it, it looked more like a burn. “They brand you?”

“Technically the gods do,” Reyna said. “I think. It comes from the heavens anyway.”

“Doesn’t it hurt?” Thalia asked.

“Well, yeah,” Jason said. “That’s kind of the point.”

Thalia took a deep breath. “Okay. Okay, I can handle that. Different culture and all that. I’m sure there are things that we do that seem weird to you guys.”

Jason cracked a smile. “You can say that again.”

“Be honest with me,” Thalia said, sitting down again. “Do you three – four,” she amended, glancing at Will, “honestly believe that the two camps can co-exist? From what Lady Hera said, things got real messy before.”

“I’m a medic,” Will said, shrugging. “I treat whoever comes through the door, Roman or Greek.”

“I think that having the two camps back under one roof, so to speak, will never work,” Jason admitted. “Especially not the teenagers. We’re too different to force us to live in the same way, which is what was happening before.”

“Genius,” Thalia muttered. The sky rumbled outside the window. “Oh, stop it; I wasn’t talking about you.” She shook her head. “Paranoid.”

Jason smiled. “I do think, though, that visits are possible. Maybe even longer exchange visits when we’re talking about older people, because the older you get, the easier it is for you to respect other cultures and the way they do things.”

“So we’re not mentioning anyone’s parent,” Thalia summarised. “And that way, when the book outs you, everyone is going to be fine, because they got to know you as Greek, so why should Roman be any different.”

“Like I said,” Jason said, “it wasn’t exactly my choice, and I can’t go into it, but it worked for me.”

“You see, that worries me immediately,” Thalia said with a sigh. “I won’t ask.”

“Really?” Jason asked.

Thalia smiled wryly. “I guess Will hasn’t told you about the spoiler alarm? Even if I did wear you down to the point where you’d tell me, you wouldn’t be able to.”

“Well, that helps,” Piper said brightly. “We can just say the Fates don’t want us to say.”

“They’ll guess,” Thalia cautioned.

Piper shrugged. “That’s fine. They’ll never guess Reyna’s, especially if the Greek alter-ego is that obscure, and it doesn’t really matter if they guess mine. Not that anyone ever does.”

Thalia turned her attention to her brother’s girlfriend. Admittedly, it did seem impossible to guess from her appearance; Piper was a very pretty girl, although she seemed to go out of her way to disguise that.
Her eyes were her most distinguishing feature – they didn’t seem to have any one colour, changing from blue to green to brown even as Thalia looked at her.

Something tugged at her memory, and she tried to follow it.

“Can I ask questions before I guess?”

Piper grinned, a kind of mischievous smile that reminded Thalia of Jason when he was a toddler, about to do something he wasn’t supposed to. “Sure, but they have to be yes-no questions.”

“That’s fair enough,” Thalia agreed, unable to help smiling back. “Is it your mom?”

“Yes.”

“Are you good with a sword?” Thalia asked.

Piper shrugged. “I like to think so.”

“She is,” Jason said. “Sometimes, she can almost beat me.”

“Excuse you,” Piper said, in mock offence, “I did beat you last time we sparred.”

The tug on Thalia’s memory suddenly settled; a girl having a pretend argument at the head counsellors meeting, distracting everyone from Thalia’s sudden presence among them, so they would stop pretending not to stare at her. Her eyes hadn’t swirled in the same way as Piper’s were doing, but they did change from day-to-day.

“Aphrodite,” Thalia said.

Piper sighed. “Alright, be honest. You’re a mind-reader, aren’t you?”

Thalia laughed. “No. Once I knew it was your mom, it narrowed down quite a bit. Honestly, your mistake was saying that no one ever guesses it. Once I knew that, and I knew that you were good with a sword, I thought about which goddess I would never associate with sword-fighting.”

“How did you know I wasn’t one of Demeter’s?” Piper asked curiously.

“Well, I don’t know how you’re going to take this,” Thalia said. “But … I’ve only ever seen one other person’s eyes change colour like that. And that was Silena Beauregard.”

Piper sucked in a breath. “No one really talks about her. Drew runs her mouth a lot.”

Thalia rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Piper, my dealings with Drew are few and far between, and that’s how I like it.”

“I’m her sister,” Piper said, “and I feel exactly the same way.”

“Silena …” Thalia trailed off. “Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of conversations with Silena. When I was at Camp, I didn’t have a lot of conversations with many people. But there were people that tried to help me deal with what had happened. Silena was very good at drawing the attention away from me, without making it look like that was what she was doing. And she did know what she was doing. I don’t know why she listened. Your mother is one of the better ones when it comes to claiming her kids, and being involved, although …” she frowned. “You’re, what, fifteen?”

“That’s right,” Piper said quietly.

“So you should have been claimed by my time then,” Thalia said. “And I’m certain you haven’t been.”

“No,” Piper said. “Not for another few months.”

“Unlike her,” Thalia said, her frown deepening. “I don’t know what made Silena take his side, Piper. I’ll need to find out if Luke knows, because I’d like to have an answer when we get to that part, but … she was a good person. And she was brave with it. So don’t listen to Drew, whatever she’s saying.”

“That tends to be my motto in life,” Piper said, stifling a yawn.

Thalia didn’t miss it. “You all look exhausted. C’mon, bed.”

“I’m fine,” Reyna said immediately. “I’m a Praetor of the Twelfth Legion.”

“I don’t care if you’re the Empress of Rome,” Thalia said. “You look exhausted and believe me when I say that tomorrow will be mentally draining, even if you’re not emotionally involved with what we’re reading about.” She glanced at Jason. “You’re going to have fun tomorrow.”

“Why?” Jason asked. “What happened to you?”

“The pine tree got sick,” Thalia said, “which I wouldn’t normally worry about, but the Minotaur slammed into it a few days ago and I got winded, so … Yeah, I’m not looking forward to that.”

“Okay, before anyone goes to sleep,” Reyna said, “what does a pine three have to do with anything?”

“I got attacked on the way in to Camp Half-Blood with Luke and Annabeth,” Thalia said. “I made the decision to stand and fight, got killed, and then Father turned me into a pine tree.”

“Why?” Reyna asked blankly.

Thalia shrugged. “What else do you turn your dying daughter in to?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Reyna admitted. “I mean …”

“Roman gods aren’t really known for intervening,” Jason said.

“Neither are the Greeks,” Thalia said. “Well, some of them find their loopholes.”

“The Greeks are more involved than the Romans,” Jason said. “But for the main part, I’ve never heard a Roman demigod get upset about it.”

“So is that because they’re Roman or because Camp Jupiter is just a different way of life?” Thalia asked.

“That’s a good question,” Reyna said. “I guess we’ll find out.”

“Tomorrow,” Thalia said firmly. “I’m putting my foot down.”

“Okay,” Will said. “Goodnight.”

“You’re not arguing?” Piper asked.

“You do not argue with the Mom Voice,” Will told her seriously. “Even when it’s not your Mom.”

Thalia rolled her eyes. “You’re hilarious. Go on, girls through that door; boys through that one. Goodnight.”

Jason hung back, even when the others had said goodnight.

“Jason …” Thalia began, unable to help a smile.

“I know,” Jason interrupted. “I am going; I’m exhausted. I just … I love you.”

Thalia hugged him tightly, closing her eyes against the onslaught of tears. “I love you too. Welcome home.”

Chapter Text

Thalia woke the next morning with the feeling that there was something very important she needed to do.

“Thalia,” Annabeth said. “Did we get visitors last night?”

“Oh yeah,” Thalia mumbled. “I’d forgotten about that.” She sat up, running a hand through her hair, blinking in the sudden light. “Annabeth, Rachel, this is Reyna and Piper.”

“She’s not good in the morning,” Annabeth said apologetically.

“I’m fine in the morning,” Thalia said. “I can manage it with the hunt. I’m just not very good when I’ve been sleeping in a bed rather than a sleeping bag.” She glanced at the clock. “You two were exhausted last night; how are you awake?”

“Habit,” Reyna answered.

“Nightmares,” Piper added.

“I’d ask if you want to talk about it,” Thalia said, “but since you can’t tell us anything, I’m probably not the best soundboard.”

“Well, thank you for the offer,” Piper said. “It’s the thought that counts. But if I’m having nightmares …”

“Right,” Thalia said, swinging her legs out of bed.

“Thalia?” Annabeth asked.

Thalia didn’t answer, throwing on a robe, and darting out of the room.

The boys were already up.

Jason and Will were having a quiet conversation nearby. When she emerged, Jason broke off mid-sentence to smile at her. “Morning.”

“Nightmares?” Thalia asked.

Jason shrugged. “One or two.”

Thalia hugged him tightly, beyond grateful for the chance to do so again.

“Thalia?” Percy asked.

“Have you not introduced yourself?” Thalia asked.

Jason shrugged, giving her a squeeze and releasing her. “Not in any detail.”

“You’re unbelievable,” Thalia said, glancing over her shoulder as Annabeth and Rachel emerged, looking bewildered. “Guys, this is Jason, my little brother.” She ran an eye over her brother’s frame. “Younger brother.”

“The younger brother we never knew about,” Annabeth said, a little dryly. “So to clarify – Piper, Reyna, Jason – anyone else we’re expecting?”

“Not that we know of,” Piper answered.

“Not that we’re expecting,” Jason added, kissing his girlfriend quickly. “Then again, we all know how predictable demigods can be.”

Percy cracked a smile. “So, ladies, who are your parents?”

“We can’t tell you,” Piper said with a disarming smile. “The Fates won’t let us. It’ll come up in the books.”

“Huh, that’s weird,” Percy said. “We could all say ours.”

“Well, we’re all already here,” Annabeth pointed out reasonably.

“Nico and Thalia aren’t,” Percy said.

“Yes, but everyone knew mine,” Thalia pointed out. “And maybe the Fates figured out it was better for Nico to say his in a controlled environment rather than have the books spring it on them.”

“Younger brother we never knew about,” Annabeth repeated. “Is this a story you can tell?”

“Not with any kind of satisfactory explanation,” Jason said.

Thalia sighed. “I was seven when Jason was born. When he was two, our mother took us out for the day. She sent me back to the car to get something; when I came back, Jason was missing and she told me she’d given him to Hera to appease her. I thought he was dead, freaked out, ended up running away.”

“So where were you?” Percy asked, with interested.

Jason shrugged. “Can’t tell you. Spoilers and all that.”

“It’s convenient, isn’t it?” Will asked with a grin.

“I’d forgotten what a morning person you are,” Thalia grumbled. “It’s indecent. I’m going to get dressed, and then we should probably go and get some breakfast. It’s going to be a long day.”

“Medical bag’s stocked,” Will assured her.

“Okay, thanks,” Thalia said. “I’m glad you’re optimistic.”

“Optimism is great,” Will said. “Realism keeps people alive.”

“I’m only going to get the symptoms,” Thalia reminded him, disappearing back into the girls’ room.

“I’m not taking any chances!” Will called after her.

***

When the time travellers stepped into the throne room, all eyes settled on them.

“Good morning,” Annabeth greeted. “We’ve got some more.”

“I’m going to assume you don’t know everyone here,” Thalia said. “So I’ll do a quick run through.” She went around the younger demigods, giving their names and parents, before returning to their new companions.

“So you know Will. This is Piper, Reyna and Jason. They can’t actually tell us who their parents are because the Fates don’t want them to for some reason, but I can tell you that Jason is my little brother. Younger brother.”

“Again?” Jason asked. “I’m about a head taller than you.”

“Look, in my head you’re still two years old and trying to eat stationery items,” Thalia said. “I can’t help that.”

“One stapler,” Jason said. “Would you let it go?”

Hestia smiled. “Something tells me this could keep going, so why don’t we all have breakfast, and then we can figure out who’s going to read first.”

Breakfast was already more or less ready, and Sally was just placing a plate of blue pancakes on the table.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said by way of explanation. “Although that pill is still working I think, Will, so thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Will said. “I’ll put you down for another dose in a few days’ time, shall I?”

“I’m hoping I won’t need one,” Sally said. “I’m going to, aren’t I?”

“I hope not,” Percy said. “But probably, yes.”
Thalia sighed. “Between you and Annie, you’re going to give me a heart attack.”

“Join the club,” Sally said, putting a plate in front of Luke. “Starving yourself is not going to change anything. Eat.”

Breakfast was finished quickly, everyone eager to learn what happened next.

Finally, they all settled down again, and Amphitrite picked up the book. “Does anyone mind if I start?”

“Go ahead,” Hera said. “I think we’re all ready.”

“Very well. Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters,” Amphitrite began. “Chapter One. My …” She trailed off, blinking at the page.

“My what?” Sally asked, concerned.

My Best Friend Shops for a Wedding Dress,” Amphitrite finished, a little bemused.

There were a few giggles.

“Why am I shopping for a wedding dress?” Annabeth asked. “I’m twelve.”

“Actually, thirteen by this point,” Percy said. “If this is what I’m thinking of, it’s next summer for you guys.”

“Out of interest,” Annabeth said. “Is anyone taking notes? I feel like someone should be taking notes.”

“I’ll do it,” Malcolm offered, scrambling for a notepad and a pen. “Do you think it matters that we didn’t take notes last time?”

“Well, I should hope that the master bolt and the helm of darkness are back where they belong now,” Annabeth said. “So that quest won’t need to happen. Feel free to backdate though.”
Her past self sighed. “Why am I shopping for a wedding dress?”

Percy shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Be fair,” Thalia added. “He never said which best friend.”

Amphitrite cleared her throat. “Well, let’s find out. My nightmare started out like this.

“A dream would make more sense,” Athena said. “Although wedding dress shopping doesn’t exactly sound like a nightmare.”

“It depends wholly on who’s doing the shopping, ma’am,” Percy said.

I was standing on a deserted street … Florida, I thought.

“It sounds like Florida,” Nico said.

Though I wasn’t sure how I knew that. I’d never been to Florida.

“Well, it’s your dream,” Thalia said. “Unless it’s a demigod dream, in which case, hold on.”

Then I heard hooves … I turned and saw my friend Grover running for his life.

Grover looked worried. “Uh oh.”

“It’s just a dream, buddy,” Percy said. “Right?”

Yeah, I said hooves. Grover is a satyr …

Amphitrite hesitated. “The next few paragraphs are just a summary of the last book, so I’m just going to skip them.”

There was a murmur of agreement and she moved on.

Anyway, in my dream, Grover was hauling goat tail … He’d escaped from somewhere.

“Well, that’s good,” Katie said. “At least you got away.”

He was trying to get away from … something.

“That’s not,” Lee said. “Means it’s still following him.”

A bone- rattling growl cut through the storm.

A shudder ran through Percy’s body. “Seriously?”

“Starting early, I see,” Thalia said.

“I don’t understand,” Jason said.

“Bone-rattling,” Thalia repeated. “Percy’s bones rattled.”

“But that’s just an expression,” Reyna pointed out. “He didn’t mean it literally.”

“Welcome to my world,” Percy grumbled.

… He muttered to himself, Have to get away. Have to warn them!

“Warn them about what?” Grover asked nervously.

“And warn whom?” Sally asked.

I couldn’t see what was chasing him … The ground shook as it got closer.

“Something big then,” Hermes said grimly, his mind racing.

...He’d run into a dead end courtyard full of shops.

“Hide,” Katie whispered.

… The nearest door had been blown open by the storm … ST AUGUSTINE BRIDAL BOUTIQUE.

That’s why he’s shopping for a wedding dress,” Connor said. “That’s a bit of a let-down.”

… The monster’s shadow passed … I could smell the thing – a sickening combination of wet sheep wool and rotten meat …

Luke sucked in a breath. “Uh oh.”

“What?” Grover asked nervously.

“I’ve smelt that before,” Luke said. “On the streets.”

Thalia nodded. “Cyclops.”

Grover whimpered.

… and that weird sour body odour … like a skunk that’s been living off Mexican food.

“Okay, that’s oddly specific,” Annabeth said. “Although surprisingly accurate. Are you alright?”

Percy was quietly gagging. “Fine,” he choked out. “The sooner we can move away from the smell, the better please.”

… Grover took a deep breath. Maybe the thing was gone.

Grover relaxed against Sally.

… The entire font of the store exploded, and a monstrous voice bellowed, ‘MIIIINE!’

“Is that usual for cyclopes?” Travis asked.

“Not really,” Poseidon said, frowning.

I sat bolt upright, shivering in my bed.

“I hate demigod dreams,” Percy muttered.

… I thought I saw a shadow flicker across the glass … It must’ve been my imagination.

Annabeth smirked. She knew it wasn’t.

A fifth-storey window with a rickety old fire escape … there couldn’t have been anyone out there.

“Well, that’s not strictly true,” Katie said. “Most demigods could probably get up there. Although why they would, I don’t know.”

‘Come on … Last day of school … You’ve almost made it!’

“Without any problems?” Percy asked. “How?”

“Luck,” Percy said. “Mostly.”

He wouldn’t be able to tell them about Tyson’s effect on the monsters of Manhattan yet anyway – although he was sure that they had mentioned Tyson before as well.

… My fingers closed reassuringly against the ballpoint pen … I thought about uncapping it, but something held my back. I hadn’t used Riptide in so long …

“How long?” Lee asked.

Percy thought about it. “Probably since the previous summer.”

“Seriously how did you manage a whole year with no monsters?” Lee asked. “I didn’t think any demigods could manage that and you should have a stronger scent than the rest of us.”

Percy shrugged. “There were extenuating circumstances. You’ll see.”

Besides, my mom had made me promise not to use deadly weapons in the apartment …

“Really?” Sally asked.

“You put in a caveat for emergencies,” Percy said.

… after I’d swung a javelin the wrong way and taken out her china cabinet.

There were a few sniggers, and Sally sighed.

“This is when it would be nice to be able to speak to other parents,” she said. “So I can know that it’s not just me.”

“I’ll give you my mom’s email address,” Lee offered immediately. “She always says the same thing.”

Sally smiled at him. “That would be lovely; thank you.”

… I tried not to think about my nightmare … What had Grover meant?”

“And who?” Sally repeated.

I made … an ancient gesture Grover had once taught me for warding off evil.

“That would only work if there was something right there,” Hermes said. “And only something minor.”

The dream couldn’t have been real.

Thalia patted Percy on the head. “You keep believing that.”

“Don’t be so condescending,” Percy said, rolling his eyes.

“Who’s being condescending?” Thalia asked innocently. “Optimism can be a wonderful thing.”

For the first time in my life, I’d almost made it an entire year … Tomorrow, I’d be on my way to my favourite place in the world – Camp Half-Blood.

The campers cheered and whistled.

Only one more day … Surely even I couldn’t mess that up.

“Percy!” Piper sighed. “Don’t you know better than to think something like that?”

“Well, I do now,” Percy said. “I hadn’t quite got that yet.”

… My mom made blue waffles and blue eggs for breakfast … her way of saying anything is possible.

Sally smiled. “It really was just to irritate Gabe to start with.”

“But not anymore,” Percy added. “Otherwise you wouldn’t keep doing it.”

… But she could always tell when something was bothering me.

“That’s because she’s your mother,” Aphrodite said.

“I don’t think it’s just that,” Annabeth said. “She can always tell when something’s bothering me as well, and she’s not my mother.”

“Yet,” Thalia said under her breath.

Annabeth pretended not to hear her.

… ‘I think Grover’s in trouble,’ I said, and I told her about my dream.

“At least you’re telling me things now,” Sally said with a sigh.

… ‘I wouldn’t be too worried … I’m sure we would’ve heard from … from camp …’

 Her shoulders tensed as she said the word camp.

“What’s wrong at Camp?” Chiron asked immediately, looking worried.

“It might be nothing,” Sally said reassuringly. “Maybe I’m just not looking forward to Percy being away for a few months.”

… ‘I’ll tell you what … I’ll take you and Tyson to … to that skateboard shop you like.’

“You hate that shop,” Percy said immediately. “You say it’s a rip-off.”
“Well, it is,” Sally admitted. “Other places sell exactly the same things, for half the price. You’re just paying for the label.”

“Well, yeah,” Percy said. “That’s the point.”

… ‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘I thought we were packing me up for camp tonight.’

“Okay, now it might be something,” Sally said, frowning.

… ‘Ah … I got a message from Chiron last night … it might not be safe for you to come to camp just yet. We might have to postpone.’

“But that doesn’t make any sense!” Lee protested. “Whatever’s happening, Percy’s going to be in no more danger at Camp than the rest of us, is he? I mean, we wouldn’t have sent home the year-rounders.”

“It depends on the problem,” Chiron said, with a frown. “And why it isn’t safe. Certainly it can’t be a direct threat against him, because then camp would be safer than Manhattan.”

… ‘Percy … I’m very, very sorry … I can’t explain it all now. I’m not even sure Chiron can. Everything happened so suddenly.’

Hermes and Apollo exchanged a loaded glance.

“Are you going to be okay, Will?” The latter asked.

Will did not bother asking how his father had guessed. “I should manage.”

“Why would he not be?” Artemis asked.

“Well, if I was Kronos, and I was going to go after Camp,” Apollo said, “the first thing I’d do is do something about the magical barrier. And since that’s tied to Thalia … How bad was it?”

Luke stiffened. His father squeezed his shoulder.

Thalia just about kept herself from rolling her eyes. “I’m not in a position where I can confirm or deny anything, you know that. If anything happened, it would have been dealt with or I wouldn’t be here, would I?”

Luke did not look any more reassured.

… ‘Seven thirty, dear. You should go. Tyson will be waiting.’

“That’s the second mention of Tyson,” Silena said. “And I’m sure I’ve heard the name somewhere before. Who is he?”

“Friend from school,” Percy said with a shrug.

… That was the last thing I wanted to do, but my mom had this fragile look in her eyes … if I pushed her too hard she’d start to cry.

Sally gnawed on her lower lip, trying not to voice her concerns. This version of her had no emotional connection to Camp Half-Blood if Percy wasn’t there, so what on earth could be so bad that it would make her cry?

Besides, she was about my friend Tyson … He was scared of travelling underground alone.

“He’s not another satyr, is he?” Grover asked.

Percy opened his mouth, paused and said, “I can’t actually tell you.”

… ‘Mom, this problem at camp. Does it … could it have anything to do with my dream about Grover?’

“I hope not,” Katie said. “Did it? Sorry,” she added belatedly. “You can’t answer that.”

She wouldn’t meet my eyes.

“That doesn’t mean it does,” Sally said hastily. “It could mean that I don’t know.”

‘We’ll talk this afternoon, dear. I’ll explain … as much as I can.’

“I don’t like that,” Athena said, frowning. “Surely Chiron would give you as much information as possible; he knows you’re clear-sighted. And you’re certainly intelligent enough to understand it.”

Sally blushed a little, but nodded. “Which suggests that Chiron doesn’t know exactly what’s going on either. That’s what I was thinking.”

… I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom and I would never get to have our afternoon talk.

“Why?” Percy asked, worriedly.

“It’s alright, dear,” Sally said. “We know that Thalia and Nico are going to meet me, and you haven’t met either of them yet. So nothing will happen to me, I don’t think.”

In fact, I wouldn’t be seeing home for a long, long time.

Now it was Sally’s turn to look worried.

“He might just go to Camp,” Artemis said kindly. “Despite the issues, whatever they may be.”

… Just for a second, I saw a dark shape … a shadow that belonged to no one.

Malcolm frowned, his pen hovering above the page.

Then it rippled and vanished.

“Annabeth,” Malcolm said, “why are you following him?”

“What makes you think it’s me?” Annabeth asked.
“Because that’s what your silhouette looks like when you’re wearing your Yankees cap,” Malcolm said. “If it’s not you, it’s someone else who can turn invisible.”

Annabeth shrugged. “Maybe I heard about Camp too and decided to come and find out for myself.”

“That does sound like something you’d do,” Clarisse muttered.

Annabeth rolled her eyes. “Oh, like you wouldn’t.”

“Alright, that’s enough,” Amphitrite said, turning to the next page. “That was the end of the chapter. Who would like to read next?”

“May I?” Piper asked. “Since we won’t be in it for a bit?”

“Certainly, my dear,” Amphitrite said, handing her the book.

Piper settled down with the next chapter. She just hoped that Thalia’s predicament wouldn’t come up in this one – she didn’t particularly want to be reading for that.

Chapter Text

Piper cleared her throat.

Chapter Two

I Play Dodgeball with Cannibals

Sally sighed. “Is it too much to ask that I get a few chapters before everything starts?”

“Apparently,” Amphitrite said, looking just as concerned.

My day started normal. Or as normal as it ever gets at Meriwether College Prep.

“I’ve heard of that school,” Michael said. “It’s … interesting.”

“It was good for the ADHD though,” Percy said. “Mostly.”

See, it’s the progressive school … we sit on beanbag chairs … we don’t get grades and the teachers wear jeans and rock concert T-shirts to work.

Athena looked pained. “Did you at least learn things?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Percy said. “They just tended to do it in … strange ways. More interactive.”

Athena sighed. “Well, there are worse ways to learn, I suppose.”

That’s all cool with me … The only bad thing … was that the teachers always looked on the bright side of things, and the kids weren’t always … well, bright.

“Are you counting yourself in that?” Thalia asked with a grin.

“That was one of the best things about that school,” Percy said. “It made me look like a genius.”

Take my first class … The whole middle school had read this book called Lord of the Flies

“Oh, no …” Lee said, hiding a smile. “Why do I know where this is going?”

So for our final exam, our teachers send us into the yard to spend an hour with no adult supervision to see what would happen.

“Oh for Olympus’s sake,” Sally said. “I’m all for alternative teaching, but how the heck is that going to help?!”

“Maybe they were hoping the kids would pull together,” Amphitrite said.

“Given that the book was about a group of kids who I’m fairly sure resorted to cannibalism, I’m fairly sure that would count as failure,” Sally said. “Did I read the prospectus of this school?”

“It was the only one that would take me, I think,” Percy said.

… The school bully, Matt Sloan, led most of those activities

“Pebble fights?” Clarisse asked in disgust. “Did he have no imagination?”

Percy rolled his eyes. “None whatsoever.”

… Anyway, Sloan was giving everybody wedgies until he made the mistake of trying it on my friend Tyson.

Annabeth smirked. “This should be fun.”

Percy sighed. “Why?” he asked, in a tone that suggested he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

“I want to know how you explained everything away,” Annabeth said, “if you hadn’t noticed after a year.”

… As near as my mom and I could figure, he’d been abandoned by his parents when he was very young …

“Poor thing,” Silena murmured.

… He was two metres tall … His face was kind of misshapen … I couldn’t tell you what colour his eyes were, because I could never make myself look higher than his crooked teeth.

“Stupid question,” Connor said. “But why not?”

Percy shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Because that sounds like the Mist,” Travis continued. “Why would the Mist be hiding him?”

No one answered him.

His voice was deep, but he talked funny … He smelled like a New York City alleyway, because that’s where he lived, in a cardboard refrigerator box off 72nd Street.

“Oh, the poor boy!” Sally said. “Why didn’t I do something about it?”

“You tried,” Percy said. “You asked him to come and stay with us, but he always turned you down. And CPS didn’t seem to care.”

Meriwether Prep had adopted him as a community service project … Once they discovered he was a big softie … they made themselves feel good by picking on him.

“Cowards,” Silena grumbled.  “Can they not pick on someone who’ll fight back?”

… I was pretty much his only friend, which meant he was my only friend.

“So to clarify,” Thalia said, “if you’d ignored him, you’d probably have been pretty popular?”

Percy shrugged. “I guess. Why?”

“It takes guts to walk away from that,” Thalia said.

My mom had complained … The social works claimed Tyson didn’t exist … though how you miss a giant kid living in a refrigerator box, I don’t know.

“Yeah, that sounds like the Mist,” Lee said with frown. “I wonder why?”

Thalia shrugged. “Could be anything. I stopped going to school when Jason was born; I don’t remember anyone ever coming to check up on me.”

“Why did you stop going to school?” Sally asked, sounding concerned.

“Because if I wasn’t there, I wasn’t convinced he’d get fed,” Thalia said with a sigh.

“I don’t remember you mentioning that before,” Jason muttered.

“Well, we were short on time, honey,” Piper reminded him.

“The point is,” Thalia said, not bothering to ask, “I’m sure that must have been the Mist, because I can’t believe everyone at school just forgot I existed. Not to mention the neighbours who used to give me rides every now and then.”

Anyway … he swatted Sloan away a little too hard. Sloan flew five minters and got tangled in the little kids’ tyre swing.

“Hold up!” Michael said. “No way is that a normal kid. I’m not even convinced someone in Cabin 5 could do that.”

Everyone looked at Clarisse, who looked a little put out. “I don’t think so.”

“Maybe he’s a monster?” Annabeth suggested.

“He can’t be,” Malcolm said. “He’d have done something after a year, surely.”

“Well, just because he’s not human, doesn’t mean he has to be bad,” Katie said fairly. “I mean, satyrs aren’t human, but they’re not monsters – there must be a middle ground.”

… Tyson started sobbing.

Silena made a little sympathetic noise.

I tried to think of the right thing to say, but … He and his big ugly friends were too busy laughing … I was used to seeing him with two or three, but today he had like, half a dozen more, and I was pretty sure I’d never seen them before.

“You have no self-preservation, do you?” Nico asked wearily. “Did it even occur to you that the Mist might be involved?”

“Honestly?” Percy asked. “No.”

“How have you survived this long?” Thalia asked. “I mean, really?”

Annabeth raised her hand. “Hello?” A second later, she reached over and tugged Nico’s hand into the air as well.

Rachel sighed, raising her hand too. “I may as well get in on that.”

Seeing the pout forming on Percy’s face, Annabeth laughed, lowering her hand. “You’re normally very good, you know that. But sometimes, you’re a …”

“Seaweed brain,” Percy finished with a mock sigh. “I know.”

‘Just wait till PE, Jackson,’ Sloan called. ‘You are so dead.’

“For sticking up for someone?” Sally asked with a frown. “Where were the teachers?”

“Letting us sort it out between ourselves,” Percy answered. “It builds character.”

“No, it teaches entitled little brats that they can do whatever they want,” Artemis said, clearly in agreement with Sally. “That is ridiculous. Not to mention, the oldest threat in the book.”

When first period ended, our English teacher … pronounced we’d understood Lord of the Flies perfectly.

“How?” Connor asked.

“They didn’t kill each other, maybe,” Malcolm answered. “So they learned from the book. Possibly.”

We all passed his course …

Athena sighed. “Honestly. Alternative ways of learning is one thing, but that is not helping any of those children.”

… and we should never, never grow up to be violent people.

Travis snorted. “Yeah. Alright, then.”

… I had to promise to buy Tyson an extra peanut butter sandwich at lunch to get him to stop sobbing.

Sally smiled proudly.

… Tyson sniffled. ‘You are a good friend. Miss you next year if … if I can’t …’

“Oh, the poor boy,” Amphitrite said, frowning. “Whatever he is, someone needs to look after him.”

… How could I promise a kid like him that anything would be fine?

“Sometimes, empty platitudes are the best you can do,” Lee said. “Besides, it’s not your job to make sure it’s fine.”

Our next exam was science.

“They can’t possibly make a mess of that, can they?” Athena asked. “It’s fact.”

Mrs Tesla told us that we had to mix chemicals until we succeeded in making something explode.

“Apparently they can,” Hephaestus said dryly. “Surely that’s just luck.”

Tyson was my lab partner … He accidentally knocked a tray of chemicals … and made an orange mushroom cloud in the trashcan.

“Cue evacuation,” Travis said with a snigger. “What’s the betting they get praised for it?”

After Mrs Tesla evacuated the lab … she praised Tyson and me for being natural chemists.

Athena just sighed again, looking pained.

… I couldn’t stand the idea that something might be wrong at camp.

“None of us can,” Katie said sadly.

Even worse … I had a terrible feeling that Grover was in danger.

“I hope not,” Grover bleated.

In social studies … I opened my notebook and stared at the photo inside – my friend Annabeth on vacation in Washington, DC.

“Out of interest,” Thalia said, “how long is it going to take you to realise that’s not something that ‘just friends’ tend to do?”

“Do you not have pictures of us?” Percy asked, pretending to be hurt.

“Of course I do,” Thalia said. “I just don’t stare longingly at them when I’m supposed to be doing other things.”

Percy and Annabeth had both gone bright red, something Thalia didn’t fail to notice.

She was also fairly certain that the only reason Clarisse hadn’t said anything was because she was still trying not to draw too much attention to herself after the revelations about her father yesterday.

None of the gods had mentioned Ares’ punishment yet, but he had been particularly quiet, and Apollo and Hermes both quietly smug about something, so she assumed he must have been.

In any case, she chose not to tease Percy any further – at least until they were in private.

… See, Annabeth wants to be an architect … she’s always visiting famous monuments and stuff. She’s weird that way.

Annabeth mock-huffed. “How dare you?”

“I never said that was a bad thing,” Percy said. “We’re all weird.”

She’d e-mailed me the picture … every once in a while I’d look at it just to remind myself she was real and Camp Half-Blood hadn’t just been my imagination.

“Alright, I’ll let you off,” Thalia said. “I still wouldn’t be doing that in class though.”

“Because that exam might actually be worth something?” Reyna asked.

“No, because he’s in a room full of people who will take any excuse to mock him,” Thalia answered. “You don’t hand someone the ammo to hit you with.” She paused. “Also, that exam might actually be worth something, but I’m not holding out much hope.”

I wished Annabeth was here.

Silena, Travis and Connor all cooed in unison.

Only one of them wasn’t mockingly.

The first two guesses don’t count.

She’d know what to make of my dream.

“You’re more optimistic than I am,” Annabeth said, her blush finally receding. “I heard the whole thing, and I don’t know what to make of it.”

I’d never admit it to her, but she was smarter than me …

“You don’t need to admit that to me,” Annabeth said. “I already know.”

… even if she was annoying sometimes.

Her mouth fell open. “Hey!”

Percy ducked instinctively. “I wouldn’t admit that to you either!”

I was about to close my notebook when Matt Sloan reached over and ripped the photo out of the rings.

Thalia rolled her eyes. “Called it.”

… ‘No way, Jackson. Who is that? She is not your –’

‘Give it back!’

“Mm, denial’s not going to help,” Jason said. “It’s the whole ‘protesting too much’ thing.”

“Why does everyone assume I’m his girlfriend?” Annabeth asked.

Percy glanced at her. “You are.”

“I am now,” Annabeth said, rolling her eyes. “People have been making assumptions for years.”

“Because any time two people of the opposite sex have any kind of friendship, people assume they must have a thing for each other,” Will said. “Meanwhile, two people of the same sex can be as comfortable as they like with each other and no one assumes they’re together, even when they are.”

… They were new kids who must’ve been visiting, because they were all wearing those stupid HI! MY NAME IS: tags …

“Okay, maybe it’s not the Mist,” Nico said.

… they’d all filled in strange names like: MARROW SUCKER, SKULL EATER and JOE BOB.

“Or maybe it is,” Nico sighed.

No human beings had names like that.

“Keep going,” Thalia said. “Follow that train of thought.”

‘These guys are moving here next year,’ Sloan bragged, like that was supposed to scare me.

“I won’t be there next year,” Percy predicted. “Something’s about to happen.”

‘I bet they can pay the tuition, too, unlike your retarded friend.’

“It might even be my fault for once,” Percy said, scowling.

“Percy, you can’t hit him,” Sally said patiently. “However much of a bully he is.”

‘He’s not retarted.’ I had to try really, really hard not to punch Sloan in the face.

“At least he’s trying,” Amphitrite said.

… I was under strict orders from Chiron never to take my anger out on regular mortals, no matter how obnoxious they were.

“Hit him anyway,” Clarisse said.

“Oh, believe me, I was tempted,” Percy grumbled.

… Still, part of me thought, if Sloan only knew who I really was …

“He wouldn’t believe you,” Thalia said wisely. “And you know it.”
“I’m allowed moments of fantasy,” Percy said.

“His fantasy life needs some work,” Will muttered, just loud enough for Jason to hear.

Jason choked back a laugh.

… As Tyson and I were leaving class, a girl’s voice whispered, ‘Percy!’

“It’s definitely you,” Malcolm said to his sister.

“Why would I be stalking him invisibly?” Annabeth asked. “And don’t say,” she added to the Stolls, “that it makes more sense than stalking him visibly.”

They both closed their mouths looking disappointed.

“I can’t say if it’s me or not,” Annabeth said. “I will say, however, if it was me, it would be the reason why I don’t bother with subtlety anymore.”

… Like any girl at Meriwether would ever be caught dead calling my name.

“Technically, they whispered it,” Nico said. “Would that make more sense?”

... It was time for PE. Our coach had promised us a free-for-all dodgeball game …

Sally closed her eyes. “Malcolm, did you make a note of the name of the school?”

Malcolm ran an eye over his notes. “No – would you like me to?”

Sally smiled at him. “Yes please. So I can make a note to never, ever consider them.

… and Matt Sloan had promised to kill me.

“On the bright side, dodgeballs can’t kill you,” Silena said.

Will tilted his head thoughtfully. “I don’t know … baseballs can kill you; that’s why they wear helmets. I suppose if a dodgeball hit you hard enough in the right place, they might be able to kill you.”

“Not to mention there are a load of monsters in the class, maybe,” Clarisse said.

She was torn.

On the one hand, hearing about this bully beating Prissy up would be hilarious.

On the other, she didn’t really want him dead, which was the risk with the monsters, if they were monsters.

The gym uniform …

Piper paused, reading the next sentence again in her head.

It definitely said what she thought it did.

The gym uniform at Meriwether is sky-blue shorts and tie-dyed T-shirts.

“Oh dear,” Silena said with a sigh.

Fortunately, we did most of our athletic stuff inside, so we didn’t have to jog through Tribeca looking like a bunch of boot-camp hippie children.

“That’s where all the artists live,” Michael said. “No one would notice.”

… Tyson ducked inside the weight room. I stood guard outside the door while he changed.

“That’s kind of you,” Katie said.

“Well, he got so worried about it,” Percy said with a shrug.

… I think it’s because he’s completely hairy and he’s got weird scars on his back that I’ve never had the courage to ask him about.

Sally frowned. “Poor boy.”

Anyway, I’d learned the hard way that if people teased Tyson … he’d get upset and start ripping the doors off lockers.

“And you thought this was normal demigod strength?” Nico asked dryly.

“Look, I’ve seen people in Cabin 5 do some pretty odd things,” Percy said. “Some demigods get enhanced strength.”

“So do the hunters,” Thalia said. “I’m fairly certain I can’t rip a locker door off.”

“Have you ever tried?” Percy asked.

“Well, no,” Thalia admitted.

“Then you can’t say I’m wrong,” Percy said.

… Coach Nunley … was about a million years old … He reminded me of the Oracle … except Coach Nunley moved a lot less …

“Well, he sounds like an excellent gym teacher,” Rachel said. “Of course, I never liked gym class so I’m probably biased.”

… and he never billowed green smoke.

“I should hope not,” Apollo said, trying not to smile. “I don’t think his prophecies would be too good.”

… Matt Sloan said, ‘Coach, can I be captain?’

“Oh, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Michael said.

… He made me the other team’s captain, but it didn’t matter  who I picked … I had Tyson, Corey Bailer the computer geek, Raj Mandali the calculus whiz, and a half-dozen other kids who always got harassed by Sloan and his gang.

“A calculus whiz might actually help you,” Malcolm said. “Being able to predict trajectories can be very beneficial in dodgeball games.”

“Only if you’re playing against a team that plays by the rules,” Connor said. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have time to predict them.”

Normally I would’ve been okay with just Tyson … but the visitors on Sloan’s team were almost as tall and strong-looking as Tyson, and there were six of them.

“I’ve been thinking,” Lee said slowly. “I know Percy’s got a strong scent and everything but … is it usual to get six at once that are working together?”

“No,” Chiron said grimly. “I would imagine that recent events have caused unrest.”

“Or they were sent,” Luke said darkly.

“Or that,” Chiron agreed.

… ‘Scared,’ Tyson mumbled. ‘Smell funny.’

“Uh oh,” Grover said. “If he can smell monsters …”

“He’s definitely not human,” Hermes agreed. “Although I can’t figure out what he is.”

… The visitors were cracking their knuckles, eyeing us like it was slaughter time.

“Whatever they are, they’re very polite monsters,” Thalia said.

“How so?” Will asked.

“Well, they’ve waited all day, and even now they’re waiting for the game to start,” Thalia said. “Very disciplined.”

“Too disciplined for my liking,” Reyna said. “It’s not normal.”

I couldn’t help wondering where they were from. Someplace where they fed kids raw meat and beat them with sticks.

“To be fair, that’s probably not a bad description of Tartarus,” Nico commented.

Will, Jason, Reyna and Piper all tried not to flinch.

Sloan blew the coach’s whistle and the game began … A ball slammed into my gut.

Percy doubled over with a sharp gasp, a curse escaping him.

“Language,” Annabeth said mildly, rubbing his back.

“Any time you want to jump in and help,” Percy said hoarsely. “That’d be great.

… My eyesight was fuzzy.

Percy blinked rapidly. “Piper, please tell me I’m not going to get any more descriptive.”

Piper glanced at the next line. “Sorry.”

“I figured as much,” Percy groaned. “Just get it over with please.”

I felt like I’d just got the Heimlich manoeuvre from a gorilla.

Percy whimpered, resting his head on his knees. “What the heck is wrong with me?!”
Despite his predicament, Annabeth couldn’t help snickering. “Heimlich manoeuvre from a gorilla? Where’d that come from?”

“And here I thought you were going to be the problem,” Will muttered to Thalia as he leaned past her to rest a hand on Percy’s shoulder.

At his frown, Annabeth’s laughter disappeared. “Is he okay?”

“You got ambrosia after this, right?” Will asked.

“I think so,” Percy groaned. “At some point. I don’t remember. I thought I just got winded. Didn’t I just get winded?”

“I don’t know,” Will said. “But right now, you have cracked ribs.”

“Isn’t that from the fight yesterday though?” Annabeth asked.

“No, I gave him ambrosia,” Will said. “It healed overnight.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out another square. “Eat.”

I couldn’t believe anybody could throw that hard.

“Well, no mortal, certainly,” Lee said.

… I rolled as another dodgeball whistled past my ear at the speed of sound … Corey Bailer yelped.

“Oh dear,” Sally said. “Just get them out of there, Percy. You’re going to get blamed for it, but you’re not going back to that school anyway, so don’t worry about it.”

“It would be nice if I could have one year,” Percy said with a sigh.

‘Hey!’ I yelled at Sloan’s team. ‘You could kill somebody!’

“I think that’s the point,” Jason said.

The visitor named Joe Bob grinned … Somehow, he looked a lot bigger now …

“The Mist is lifting,” Michael said. “Are we going to find out about Tyson now?”

“No, that’s going to take me at least another chapter, I think,” Percy said. “Piper, what’s the next chapter called?”

Piper flipped through the next few pages and leaned over to show him.

Percy nodded. “Yeah, at least another chapter.”

… ‘I hope so, Perseus Jackson! I hope so!’

“That should get you to catch on,” Nico said. “No one ever calls you that.”

… Nobody called me Perseus except those who knew my true identity. Friends … and enemies.

“I never did thank you for that,” Percy said to Luke. “Whatever else you did, you never called me that.”

“You’re welcome,” Luke said. “I think.”

… All around Matt Sloan, the visitors were growing in size … They were two-and-a-half-metre-tall giants with wild eyes, pointy teeth and hairy arms tattooed with snakes and hula women and Valentine hearts.

“What the heck are they?!” Will asked.

“Sound like Laistrygonians,” Lee said grimly. “Which is not good.”

“More ‘not good’ than usual?” Will asked.

“They eat humans,” Lee said. “Normally, the mortals would be okay, because the monsters wouldn’t be interested in them. But those things will eat anything nearby, demigod or not.”

“This might be a silly question,” Luke said. “But do those gym shorts have pockets?”

“Most of them don’t,” Travis said. “Why?”

Luke closed his eyes. “Who takes a pen to gym class?”

Sally’s eyes widened. “Percy, please tell me you’re armed!”

Percy sighed. “Mom, I can’t tell you one way or the other.”

Matt Sloan dropped his ball. ‘Whoa! You’re not from Detroit! Who …’

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Nico muttered.

The other kids on his team started screaming … Marrow sucker threw a ball with deadly accuracy … and hit the door, slamming it shut like magic.

Sally covered her mouth. “Oh, those poor children!”

Raj and some of the other kids banged on it desperately but it wouldn’t budge.

“Out of interest, would it have killed you to step in early?” Percy muttered under his breath.

“I was avoiding the locker room,” Annabeth whispered. “Not to mention a dodgeball ricocheting off someone invisible would kind of give me away.”

‘Let them go!’ I yelled at the giants.

“Not giants,” Jason said. “But points for optimism.”

… ‘And lose our tasty morsels? No, Son of the Sea God.

“There’s a mouthful,” Nico said. “Are we sure they weren’t sent?”

Luke opened his mouth, paused, then said, “I don’t know if he sent them, but he didn’t do it through me.”

We Laistrygonians aren’t just playing for your death. We want lunch!’

“Then you should have taken advantage of Taco day in the cafeteria,” Percy said.

He waved his hand and a new batch of dodgeballs appeared … They were bronze … with fire bubbling out of their holes.

“Can they do that?” Will asked.

“I’ve never heard of it,” Chiron said. “Kronos must have been working with them.”

“You just said he wasn’t,” Thalia said to Luke.

“I didn’t say Kronos wasn’t working with them,” Luke said. “I said I personally didn’t send them on this particular trip.”

… ‘Coach!’ I yelled.

“What is he going to do?” Nico asked.

“I can dream,” Percy said.

… Maybe the coach saw a few eight graders pounding the younger kids like usual.

Sally frowned. “Did I look at their bullying record?”

“To be fair, Mom, I think you’re running out of options,” Percy said.

Maybe the other kids saw Matt Sloan’s thugs getting ready to toss Molotov cocktails around. (It wouldn’t have been the first time.)

“Excuse me?” Sally asked. “Why had they not been expelled yet?”

“Oh, Meriwether never expelled anyone,” Percy said, before breaking off and coughing harshly. “Oh, for …”

“Did you try to give something away?” Annabeth asked knowingly.

“Not intentionally,” Percy said.

At any rate, I was pretty sure nobody else realized we were dealing with genuine man-eating bloodthirsty monsters.

“Probably for the best,” Demeter said, frowning. “Those poor children.”

... I dived aside as the fiery bronze comet sailed past my shoulder.

Percy flinched, as searing heat ghosted past him.

‘Corey!’ I screamed.

He flinched again, the memory of his former classmate suddenly changing to the memory of watching Michael fall down, down, down ...

Annabeth’s hand squeezed his, anchoring him again. “You alright?” She whispered.

Percy swallowed. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

The words sounded hollow, even to his ears, and she didn’t look convinced, but she said nothing more, squeezing his hand once again.

Tyson pulled him out … just as the ball exploded against it, blasting the mat to smoking shreds.

“Thank goodness,” Amphitrite murmured.

… They ran for the locker room … that door also slammed shut.

“You are going to start fighting at some point, right?” Clarisse asked.

“I’m working on it,” Percy said.

‘No one leaves unless you’re out!’ Joe Bob roared. ‘And you’re not out until we eat you!’

“They’re really missing the point of dodgeball, aren’t they?” Thalia asked.

“I don’t know,” Will said. “Sounds like every game I ever played at school.”

… I reached for Riptide, which I always kept in my pocket, bit then I realized … Riptide was tucked in my jeans inside my gym locker.

“Hey!” Percy yelped. “What was that for?”

Annabeth and Thalia had both smacked an arm each.

“Honestly, Seaweed Brain,” Annabeth said with a sigh. “Why would you leave yourself unarmed?”

“Because I’m an idiot,” Percy said. “We know that, don’t we?”

“That’s why it’s frustrating,” Annabeth said. “You’re not an idiot.”

… I was completely defenceless.

Sally covered her mouth, clinging to her son’s hand. Thankfully, the medication still seemed to be working for the most part.

Another fireball came streaking towards me. Tyson pushed me out of the way …

The campers cheered.

… but the explosion still blew me head over heels.

“Oh, that’s weird,” Percy groaned.

I found myself sprawled on the gym floor … T-shirt peppered with sizzling holes.

Percy grimaced, rubbing his chest.

“You’re not actually burned, are you?” Will asked

Percy pulled his shirt up to find one of the old burn scars. “Well, it looks fresher than it was, but I’m not sure.”

Just across the centre line, two hungry giants were glaring down at me … They both took aim.

“Move!” Several people yelled.

‘Percy needs help!’ Tyson yelled, and he jumped in front of me just as they threw their balls.

Silena sucked in a breath. “Oh no!”

“It’s alright, darling,” Aphrodite said. “I’m certain he’s not human, so he should be able to handle himself.”

Both balls slammed into him … but no … he’d caught them.

Travis let out a low whistle. “What is he?”

… He sent them hurtling back towards their surprised owners, who screamed, ‘BAAAAAD!’ as they bronze spheres exploded against their chests.

Another, louder cheer rose up among the campers.

“I don’t care what he is,” Travis announced. “He’s awesome.”

Annabeth flinched a little, and Percy squeezed her a little. “Give yourself a break,” he murmured. “I wasn’t amazing about it either.”

The giants disintegrated … Kids were running around screaming … Others were banging on the door, calling for help.

“Those poor children,” Sally murmured. “How was the coach not hearing any of this?”

“I’m convinced he was almost completely deaf,” Percy said. “And possibly blind as well.”

…Surely the whole school could hear the noise. The headmaster, the police, somebody would come and help us.

“They won’t be much help,” Thalia said. “What are they going to do?”

“I was hoping one of them would be a demigod in disguise,” Percy said.

‘Victory will be ours! … We will feast on your bones!’

The celebratory air had diminished again, just as quickly as it had appeared.

I wanted to tell him he was taking the dodgeball game way too seriously …

“Please don’t,” Thalia said wearily. “Is it too much to ask you not to have a smart mouth?”

Percy coughed loudly. “Hypocrite.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

Thalia just rolled her eyes.

… he hefted another ball. The other three giants followed his lead.

“Uh oh,” Lee murmured. “I doubt Tyson can catch four at once.”

I knew we were dead … Without my sword …
I had a crazy idea.

“Oh no,” Nico sighed.

“I have great ideas,” Percy said.

“Sometimes,” Thalia agreed. “Other times, they’re really not that great.”

I ran towards the locker room.

“Brilliant!” Luke said.

“How is that good?” Connor asked. “The door’s locked.”

“Time it just right and the ball should blow the door off its hinges,” Luke said. “Brilliant if it works.”

“If it works,” Percy repeated. “I wasn’t positive.”

… Tyson had batted two of the balls back towards their owners and blasted them to ashes.

“Only two left,” Thalia said. “And, Percy, are you going to help Tyson at any point?”

… A third ball hurtled straight at me.

“Move!” Several people shouted.

I forced myself to wait …

“What? Why?” Chris asked.

Luke nudged his younger brother gently. “Relax. It’ll be fine.”

… then dived aside … Now, I figured that the built-up gas in most boys’ locker rooms was enough to cause an explosion …

Silena pulled a face. “Oh, lovely.”

… so I wasn’t surprised … The wall blew apart.

Di Immortales,” Thalia muttered. “You ever heard of overkill?”

I turned just in time to see Tyson punch Skull Eater in the face.

“One left!” Clarisse said gleefully.

… But the last giant … He threw just as Tyson was turning to face him.

Katie sucked in a breath. “Oh no!”

… The ball caught Tyson square in the chest.

Sally closed her eyes. “If he’s not human, he’ll be okay, right?”

“He should be,” Amphitrite confirmed.

He slid the length of the court … I didn’t see how Tyson could still be alive, but he only looked dazed.

“Yeah, he’s not human,” Apollo said.

“I think we’d figured that out by now,” Artemis said, rolling her eyes.

… The bronze ball was still smoking … Tyson tried to pick it up, but he fell back, stunned, into a pile of cinder blocks.

“Right, your turn,” Thalia said. “Find Riptide.”

Percy sighed. “Thalia, this was two years ago.”

… ‘Stop!’ I yelled. ‘It’s me you want!’

“You do realise that a diversion without a plan is a useless one, right?” Nico asked.

Percy frowned. “Look, I wasn’t going to let him die when they were there for me. I’d never forgive myself.”

“It wouldn’t have been your fault,” Thalia said gently.

“Like that wasn’t at least half the reason you stood your ground,” Percy said.

Thalia paused. “Alright, fair point.”

… Then I spotted my jeans in a smoking heap of clothes right by the giant’s feet.

“How are you going to get out of this one?” Travis asked.

“Wing and a prayer,” Percy said flippantly. “And a little bit of luck.”

If I could only get there … I knew it was hopeless, but I charged.

“Points for optimism,” Thalia said. “But that won’t keep you alive.”

… He raised his arm to throw. I braced myself to die.

Sally tightened her grip on her son, her eyes flickering to where his future self was sitting – far too calmly for someone who was about to even get hurt. Every other time there was an injury forthcoming, he had tensed, steeled himself for the blow.

He didn’t even look like he was completely listening.

Suddenly, the giant’s body went rigid.

“What?” Hermes asked. “That’s not normal.”

… his T-shirt ripped open … The monster stared down at the knife that had just run him through from behind.

“Oh,” Percy said. “And really good back-up. That helps.”

He muttered, ‘Ow,’ and burst into a cloud of green flame … Standing in the smoke was my friend Annabeth.

The campers cheered, causing Annabeth to blush, which only deepened when her mother gave her a proud smile.

 Her face was grimy and scratched.

Athena’s smile faded. “What happened?”

Thalia looked similarly concerned. “You ran away?”

Annabeth rolled her eyes. “I didn’t run away. I just made my own way to Camp. Dad knew where I was going.”

She had a ragged backpack slung over her shoulder … and a wild look in her storm-grey eyes, like she’d just been chased a thousand miles by ghosts.

“Nightmares?” Thalia asked. “I thought you said you didn’t get them.”

“I don’t think I got the Kronos dreams,” Annabeth said. “You were dead and Luke was Olympus only knew where – of course I was having nightmares.”

Matt Sloan … finally came to his senses … ‘That’s the girl … That’s the girl –’

“Well done,” Clarisse said sarcastically. “You’ve learned to form sentences.”

Annabeth punched him in the nose and knocked him flat. ‘And you … lay off my friend.’

The Stolls whistled.

“You are awesome,” Percy said.

“I am awesome,” Annabeth agreed.

… ‘Annabeth … How did you …. How long have you …’

‘Pretty much all morning … I’ve been trying to find a good time to talk to you but you were never alone.’

“You could have come in to the apartment,” Percy said. “Mom would have been fine.”

“Well, I hadn’t met your mom yet,” Annabeth said. “I thought emerging from your bedroom might make a weird first impression.”

Percy rolled his eyes. “Then ring the doorbell like a mortal.”

“Demigods do ring doorbells,” Apollo said, looking amused.

“Well, none of my friends do,” Percy said. “I think Mom’s just used to demigods appearing from strange places. Or out of nowhere.”

“That was one time,” Nico said, rolling his eyes. “And I was aiming for the fire escape.”

… ‘Oh my gods, you were looking in my bedroom window?’

“Oh, relax,” Annabeth said, when several people snickered. “I didn’t see anything. Except the fact that you …”

“I know,” Percy said, rolling his eyes. “I drool in my sleep.”

… The doors burst open and the adults came pouring in.

“Time to leave,” Malcolm said to his sister.

‘Meet me outside,’ Annabeth told me. ‘And him.’ She pointed to Tyson …

“Really?” Silena asked. “He won’t be able to get into Camp.”

“No, he will,” Thalia said. “Anyone can get in if they’re invited.”

“Mortals too?” Katie asked.

Thalia shrugged. “I don’t see why not. I’m sure parents came for the … for the funerals.”

… Annabeth gave him a look of distaste that I didn’t quite understand.

“Uh oh,” Luke said. “What was he?”

… She put on her Yankees baseball cap … and instantly vanished.

“I wish I had something that let me do that,” Percy said with a sigh.

That left me standing alone … when the headmaster came charging in with half the faculty and a couple of police officers.

“Yeah, I’d want to disappear as well,” Lee said.

“Look, at least Percy was a student there,” Annabeth said. “How would they explain me?”

… Matt Sloan was coming around, too … ‘Percy did it … Coach Nunley will tell you! He saw it all!’

“I don’t think Coach Nunley saw anything,” Rachel muttered. “Also, he saw them!”

“Yes, but the Mist will have kicked in,” Artemis said. “So he will only remember Percy.”

Rachel sighed. “I forget that other people have to deal with the Mist.”

Coach Nunley had been dutifully reading … he chose that moment to look up … ‘Eh? Yeah. Mm-hmm.’

“Oh, come on!” Percy groaned. “Sorry, Mom.”

“It’s alright, sweetheart,” Sally said with a sigh. “Believe it or not, I’ve had stranger phone calls.”

… I knew they would never believe me, even if I could tell them the truth.

“They’ll have forgotten about the exchange students by now,” Apollo said. “So you can’t even blame them.”

I grabbed Riptide out of my ruined jeans, told Tyson, ‘Come on!’ and jumped through the gaping hole in the side of the building.

“That, on the other hand,” Sally said, “is likely to give me a heart attack.”

“I called as soon as we got where we were going,” Percy reassured her.

Piper cleared her throat. “That is the end of the chapter

“Shall I read next?” Jason asked.

“Hang on,” Annabeth said, taking the book. She flipped to the end of the next chapter, glancing at the last line. “Yes, you can read next.”

Chapter Text

As Jason took the book, Thalia frowned, fidgeting in her seat.

“Relax,” Annabeth murmured. “I checked – it’s not this chapter.”

“I know,” Thalia said quietly. “It’s not that; it’s …” she broke off with a grimace, suddenly rising to her feet. “I’m really sorry,” she said to the room at large. “Can we take five minutes? Something’s calling me?”

“Something?” Artemis repeated.

“Something,” Thalia agreed. “I don’t know what or who it is, but it’s important. I won’t be long.”

Without waiting for an answer, she left the throne room, following the odd tugging feeling towards the entrance to the palace.

There, she found a stern looking woman waiting for her, although even as she looked, it was impossible to tell what the woman looked like, how old she was, or even if she was human at all.

Her hair was tied up in a tight bun, held in place by two sticks that Thalia was certain were knitting needles.

“Thalia Grace,” she said, with a voice that seemed to echo and yet whisper all at once. “I am Lachesis.”

The name ran through every memory Thalia had before coming up blank, but she bowed regardless – it was always better to be safe than sorry. “My apologies, ma’am.”

A smile quirked on Lachesis’s face, making her seem much younger all at once. “The Fate of Life, child. I measure. My sister, Clotho, spins; Atropos cuts.”

“Of course,” Thalia said. “I’m sorry. Uh, no offence, ma’am, but I thought you appeared …”

“Older?” Lachesis finished. “We do, usually. It is rare we interact with mortals; when we do, we try to be a little less intimidating.”

“Should I be flattered or afraid?” Thalia asked.

Lachesis smiled. “No need to worry, my dear. I called you here simply to act as a guide.”

“A guide?” Thalia repeated, allowing herself to relax a little.

“Good luck,” Lachesis said, beginning to fade from view.

The next time Thalia blinked, the Fate of Life had disappeared completely, leaving behind a young girl with long dark hair that half-covered her face, obscuring very familiar dark eyes.

Thalia’s breath caught, now understanding why this new visitor had not simply been dropped off at the door to the throne room like everyone else. “Hi Bianca. I’m Thalia. Did Lady Lachesis explain what’s going on?”

“Sort of,” Bianca said, in a voice that surprised Thalia somewhat.  She didn’t remember Bianca – or Nico, for that matter – ever sounding Italian, and yet there was a definite lilt to her voice now.

Then again, this was almost certainly Bianca from 2006 – Luke was proof that the Fates could bring people from the afterlife, but Bianca had gained a kind of quiet confidence upon joining the Hunters – a confidence that this Bianca was not showing at all.

“Sort of?” Thalia repeated, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice.

“I’m a demigod, I’m on Olympus, something terrible could happen so the Fates have brought people back in time to fix it,” Bianca listed. “But I don’t know why I’m going to be any help.”

“No one from your time does,” Thalia said. “Ah, you do know what year it is, don’t you?”

“2006 apparently,” Bianca said. “She did tell me about the time passing. Nico is going to be alright, isn’t he?”

“While you’re here or in general?” Thalia asked.

“Both,” Bianca sad.

“Well, he is here,” Thalia said. “From my time. 2009, that is. I’m sure he’ll be alright while you’re here – he’s in a hotel with unlimited games. He probably won’t even notice you’re gone.”

“You don’t know my brother,” Bianca said with a sigh. “If I’m out of sight for more than five minutes, he comes looking for me.”

Something inside Thalia’s chest ached at the reminder.

Percy had talked to Nico more than she had before the quest, before Bianca had died.

No one had expected Nico to take Bianca’s death well, of course, but how on earth had a boy never apart from his sister for more than a few minutes coped with losing her forever?

By himself, no less.

“He’ll be alright,” Thalia repeated. “I’m sure the Fates will return you to the time you left from, if not much later.” She started to lead Bianca back towards the throne room, her mind racing.

She was sure that Persephone, at the very least, had realised that Bianca was dead, although Nico had never actually answered his stepmother’s question when she asked after his sister.

But what was she going to do now?

“I think,” she said slowly, “I’m going to pull Nico out first, before we go in.”

“Why?” Bianca asked curiously.

“Because we haven’t seen you for a while,” Thalia answered, not untruthfully.

“And?” Bianca asked. “Why does that need a private reunion?”

Thalia hesitated. “Trust me.” She reached the throne room door and turned to face her. “Please wait here.”

Bianca nodded. “Okay.”

“Thank you.” Thalia slipped back inside and gave everyone a smile. “Sorry about that. One of the Fates dropped off another reader.”

“Oh?” Hera asked. “Why not just leave them at the door?”

“They didn’t know they were a demigod,” Thalia answered – again, not untruthfully. “Wanted to make sure that someone looked after them. Nico, can I borrow you?”

“Because I’m the best at looking after people?” Nico asked incredulously.

Thalia sighed. “Once – just once – can you not need an explanation first and just trust me?”

“I do trust you,” Nico said, getting to his feet. “I just doubt I’m the best person for this.”

“Trust me; you’re the best person for this,” Thalia said, lowering her voice as he reached her. “The Fates brought Bianca from 2006.”

Nico stopped dead, looking rather like she had punched him the stomach. “Does she know?”

“I can’t tell her,” Thalia reminded him. “I’ve told her that we haven’t seen you in a while. Please try not to scare her.”

“Who’s going to scare anyone?” Nico muttered, his voice coming out rather higher than normal. “I’m fine.”

“I hate that word,” Thalia said, ushering him out the door. “It never means what I think it means.”

True to her word, Bianca hadn’t moved an inch. “Hi Nico. You don’t look as old as I thought you would.”

To his credit, Nico managed a passable smile. “Yeah, well, I’ve always looked younger than I am; it’s a curse.”

Thalia watched in astonishment as a kind of shadow passed over Bianca’s face, making her look ten years older.

“I’m dead,” she said softly, “aren’t I?”

Nico opened his mouth, whether to hastily refute it or to confirm it, no one knew, because no words escaped him.

“We can’t answer that question, Bianca,” Thalia said gently. “The Fates won’t let us.”

“I am,” Bianca said, with quiet certainty. “That’s why you wanted to bring Nico out here first. That’s why he’s upset.”

“I’m not upset,” Nico said, but his voice wavered in just the wrong way.

Before Thalia could move, before she could even register that Bianca had moved, his sister had thrown her arms around him and he had just about crumpled in her embrace.

He clung to her in a way that Nico – who tended to shun physical affection from most people unless it was extenuating circumstances and they had clearly made their intentions clear – never clung to anyone.

Thalia looked away, studying the detail on the throne room door, pretending she couldn’t hear Nico’s shuddering breaths or Bianca’s whispered comforts.

Not that she had to try hard – Bianca had reverted to Italian, which Thalia couldn’t understand a word of anyway.

Just as she was worried that she would need to interrupt them, Nico pulled away, swiping a hand across his face. “This doesn’t mean you’re right.”

“If you say so, tesoro,” Bianca said, kissing his forehead. “You’re alright, though?”

“I’m alright,” Nico said, “but …”

“Then I’ll be fine,” Bianca said firmly. “Dead or not.”

For a second, Thalia was startled.

After all, Bianca was only twelve-years-old.

Then again, she had been twelve when she died as well.

And if someone had told her that she was going to die, but that Luke and Annabeth would be alright …

Well, she’d made that decision, hadn’t she?

“We still can’t say anything,” Thalia said. “But if you were right, it can still be fixed.” She held out a hand to them. “We should go back in though.”

“She’s right,” Nico said, wiping his eyes again.

Thalia smiled, digging through her pockets and managed to find a clean tissue. “Here.”

“Thanks Thals,” Nico muttered, wiping his face. “Better?”

Thalia surveyed him. “You’ll do.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence,” Nico said, sounding a little more like his old self.

Thalia laughed. “Come on.” She pushed the throne room door again. “Sorry about that. This is Bianca di Angelo, Nico’s older sister.”

“Not so much older sister at the moment,” Bianca said, a little more shyly now there was a roomful of people looking at her. “I haven’t time-travelled.”

“Well, come and sit with us anyway,” Piper said with a smile. “Since Nico’s the only person you really know.”

It was a good idea, and Thalia was glad that Piper had suggested it so she didn’t have to.

Persephone slipped a hand under her husband’s as her step-daughter took a tentative seat. She had not forgotten Nico’s reaction to the mention of his sister when he had first arrived.

If Bianca was, in fact, killed in the war, that meant that she would have to read about her own death.

Then again, maybe having her here when that happened would help Nico with reliving it – and at least the children from 2006 were exempt from the physical effects of the books.

“Does she know?” Luke murmured, just loud enough for Thalia to hear him.

Thalia didn’t look at him, but gave a little affirmative hum.

“She’s very calm,” Luke said.

The corner of her mouth twitched with a slight smile. “He’s okay.”

“Does that change things?” Luke asked.

“It would for me,” Thalia said.

Once the others had been briefly introduced to Bianca – although no one expected her to remember everyone’s names – Jason picked up the book again.

“Are we ready then?”

Chapter Text

There was a murmur of agreement and Jason turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Three

We Hail the Taxi of Eternal Torment

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Sally said, frowning.

“It’s not that bad,” Hermes assured her. “Well … it’s not a threat anyway.”

Annabeth was waiting for us … ‘Where’d you find him?’ she demanded, pointing at Tyson.

“Seriously, what is he?” Percy asked. “And why can’t I see it?”

“The Mist was still affecting you,” Annabeth explained. “It’s not uncommon. Also, I’m going to say a lot of things about Tyson …”

“And I’m going to think a lot of things,” Percy added.

“But we were wrong,” Annabeth finished. “So leave him alone.”

Now under different circumstances, I would’ve been really happy to see her.

“I just saved your life!” Annabeth protested.

“And you were being mean to my friend,” Percy said.

Annabeth sighed. “Fair enough.”

… I’d missed Annabeth probably more than I wanted to admit.

“Don’t,” Annabeth said.

Thalia smirked and closed her mouth.

But I’d just been attacked … all Annabeth could do was glare at him like he was the problem.

“Well, Annabeth probably didn’t see everything we did,” Lee said fairly. “If I came across a monster, I’d assume the worst too.”

… She looked surprised. ‘He can talk?’

“Were you expecting otherwise?” Nico asked.

“Well, I’d never come across a …” Annabeth hesitated. “… one of those who could talk normally.”
‘I talk,’ Tyson admitted. ‘You are pretty.’

“Oh, bless him,” Silena cooed. “He’s sweet.”

… I couldn’t believe she was being so rude … ‘Tyson,’ I said in disbelief. ‘Your hands aren’t even burned.’

“Are you serious?” Thalia asked. “Do you need Annabeth to put it into Morse code for you?”

“That wouldn’t work,” Percy said. “I don’t know Morse code.”

‘Of course not,’ Annabeth muttered. ‘I’m surprised the Laistrygonians had the guts to attack you with him around’

“He must be an actual monster then,” Will said. “Not just something non-human.”

“Didn’t we say it in the last book?” Percy whispered to his girlfriend.

“A lot’s happened since then,” Annabeth whispered back. “They’ve probably forgotten.”

… ‘Laistry – I can’t even say that. What would you call them in English?’

She thought about it for a moment. ‘Canadians,’ she decided.

Piper burst out laughing. “Oh, we have to remember that.”

“Why?” Annabeth asked.

“We have a friend who’s Canadian,” Piper said, grinning.

“My friend too?” Annabeth asked.

“Yep,” Piper said. “You’re going to be hearing about that one.”

… ‘The police’ll be after me.’

‘That’s the least of our problems,’ she said.

“Uh oh,” Luke muttered.

‘Have you been having the dreams?’

“Is it common for demigods to have the same dreams?” Michael asked.

Apollo frowned. “It depends what’s going on. But she may not be talking about Grover.”

‘The dreams … about Grover?’

Her face turned pale. ‘Grover? No, what about Grover?’

“Something else is going on,” Athena said grimly.

I told her about my dream. ‘Why? What were you dreaming about?’

… ‘Camp,’ she said at last. ‘Big trouble at camp.’

Annabeth shuddered.

… ‘I don’t know exactly. Something’s wrong.

That was not entirely correct. She did not know exactly what was wrong, but she did know more than she had suggested to Percy.

The dreams had been interspersed with images of Thalia, screaming in pain.

She hadn’t wanted to consider what that might mean.

We have to get there right away. Monsters have been chasing me all the way from Virginia, trying to stop me.

“I was fine,” Annabeth said hastily.

Have you had a lot of attacks?’

Thalia frowned. “You said they chased you from Virginia – did you have any before that?”

Annabeth thought for a second. “No, actually. Well, there were one or two, but nothing like I was used to. Not until I left.”

Both turned to Luke, who shrugged. “I may have put a no-go on the neighbourhood. I couldn’t do much when you left though.”

“I feel like I should thank you,” Annabeth said. “I’m just not quite sure.”

… Tyson raised his hand like he was still in class. ‘Canadians in the gym …

Piper giggled again.

… called Percy something … Son of the Sea God?’

“Good job he’s not mortal,” Lee said. “If the Mist wasn’t falling yet, it probably wasn’t going to.”

I didn’t know how I could explain, but I figured Tyson deserved the truth …

“He probably already knew,” Hermes said. “Or, at the very least, he knew about demigods, maybe even that you were one.”

… He didn’t seem surprised or confused by what I was telling him, which surprised and confused me.

“If he knows Percy’s a demigod, why does it matter whose son he is?” Travis asked.

“Because …” Percy choked off. “Never mind.

… ‘We don’t have time for this,’ Annabeth said. ‘We’ll talk in the taxi.’

“How are they going to get a taxi to Camp?” Will asked.

Lee looked a little bit nauseous. “If it’s the taxi I’m thinking of, it’s doable, but I pity them in that case.”

… I hesitated. ‘What about Tyson?’

“And you think he can get in, Thalia?” Chiron asked.

Thalia nodded. “There’s no reason he can’t, as long as someone invites him in.”

I imagined escorting my giant friend into Camp Half-Blood.

“Yeah, that’ll go down well,” Clarisse muttered.

… ‘We can’t just leave him,’ I decided. ‘He’ll be in trouble, too.’

“I don’t know if he would be, actually,” Hermes said. “The Mist could likely cover him, if he’s able to manipulate it.”

“If,” Apollo repeated.

‘Yeah.’ Annabeth looked grim. ‘We definitely need to take him. Now come on.’

“Why was it so important?” Percy whispered to her.

Annabeth thought for a moment. “Can’t remember. I think it was because he’d been there the whole year and hadn’t attacked you.”

… She looked even worse than I’d realised at first.

As Jason read through the description of the state Annabeth had been in, Thalia looked steadily more concerned.

… All around us, sirens wailed … Annabeth pulled out a gold coin that I recognized as a drachma …

“It’s a magical taxi, isn’t it?” Will asked.

“Yes, it is,” Lee said, still looking pale. “And it’s not a nice one.”

… ‘Anakoche,’ she shouted in Ancient Greek. ‘Harma epitribeios!’

“Oh,” Bianca said, sounding surprised. “Is it strange that I understood that?”

“No,” Thalia answered. “Our brains are hard-wired to understand Ancient Greek. That’s why we have such a problem with English. Or Italian, I guess.”

… She’d said, Stop, Chariot of Damnation!

That didn’t exactly make me feel real excited about whatever her plan was.

There were a few sniggers, but Lee nodded solemnly. “Very smart, Percy.”

… For a moment, nothing happened.

Then, just where the coin had fallen, the tarmac melted.

“Cool!” The Stolls cried.

“Oh, no,” Luke sighed.

Then a car erupted from the ooze … It was smoky grey … There were words printed on the door – something like GYAR SSIRES – but my dyslexia made it hard for me to decipher what was said.

Sally thought for a second. “Grey sisters?”

“How did you do that?” Apollo asked.

“I’ve got very used to deciphering things like that,” Sally said with a smile. “That was a fairly easy one.”

… ‘Three to Camp Half-Blood,’ Annabeth said. She opened the cab’s back door and waved at me to get in, like this was all completely normal.

“Well, it is,” Annabeth said.

“Don’t the Grey Sisters only have one eye between them?” Sally asked.

“That’s right,” Hermes said.

“Then how do they see to drive?” Sally asked.

“They don’t,” Lee said. “That’s where the fun starts.”

‘Ach!’ the old woman screeched. ‘We don’t take his kind!’

“What is he?” Katie asked.

Amphitrite frowned a little. “I think I know what he is. That’ll be interesting.”

... What was it? Pick-on-Big-and-Ugly-Kids Day?

“Unfortunately, I think that’s most days in most places,” Hestia said, frowning.

‘Extra pay,’ Annabeth promised. ‘Three more drachmas on arrival.’

“Where were you going to get the others from?” Thalia asked.

Annabeth just shrugged.

… Reluctantly I got in the cab … Wait a minute. There wasn’t just one old lady. There were three, all crammed in the front seat … She flooed the accelerator, and my head slammed against the backrest.

“Ow!” Percy groaned, rubbing the back of his head.

A pre-recorded voice came on over the speaker: Hi, this is Ganymede, cup-bearer to Zeus, and when I’m out buying wine for the Lord of the Skies, I always buckle up!

Apollo snorted. “No, he doesn’t. He’s terrible for it.”

I looked down and found a large black chain … I decided I wasn’t that desperate … yet.

“You will be,” Lee predicted darkly.

… ‘Well, if you’d give me the eye, Tempest, I could see that!’ the driver complained.

“Shouldn’t the driver have the eye?” Sally asked nervously.

“That suggests a logic that they have never possessed,” Athena said tiredly.

… I didn’t have time to ask questions because the driver swerved … ran over the kerb with a jaw-rattling thump, and flew into the next block.

“Oh, thanks,” Annabeth said, rubbing her face.

‘Wasp! … Give me the girl’s coin! I want to bite it.’

“Why?” Michael asked in bewilderment.

“Who knows,” Lee responded.

… The middle one, Tempest, screamed, ‘Red light!’

“Uh oh,” Thalia said. “Brace for impact?”

“Why?” Nico asked, since Percy couldn’t. “You don’t really think she’s going to stop, do you?”

… Instead, Wasp floored the accelerator and rose up on the curb … She left my stomach somewhere back on Broome Street.

Percy groaned, doubling over.

‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘But … can you see?’

“How can you be so polite?” Thalia asked.

“Well, they were in charge of the car,” Percy said. “It felt like a good idea.”

… I looked at Annabeth. ‘They’re blind?’

“You hadn’t figured out who they were?” Rachel asked.

“Not yet, no,” Percy said.

‘Not completely,’ Annabeth said. ‘They have an eye.’

“Well, that’s comforting,” Malcolm said, tapping his pen against his pad.

‘One eye’

‘Yeah.’

‘Each?’

‘No. One eye total.’

“Very comforting,” Percy said, looking pale.

Next to me, Tyson groaned and grabbed the seat. ‘Not feeling so good.’

“Poor thing,” Sally said.

“Poor kids,” Amphitrite said. “I have a feeling if he throws up, it’s not going to be fun for any of them.”

… I’d seen Tyson get carsick … it was not something you wanted to be within fifteen metres of.

Percy grimaced at the memory.

‘Hang in there … Anybody got a garbage bag or something?’

“They won’t,” Lee said confidently. “I think they get a kick out of that kind of thing.”

“I’m sure they do,” Apollo agreed.

… I looked over at Annabeth … and I gave her a why-did-you-do-this-to-me look.

“It is the best way to get there,” Lee conceded. “Just not the nicest.”

“Couldn’t Annabeth have taken it from Virginia then?” Sally asked.

“No, it’s only available in the areas around Olympus,” Lee answered.

Jason smirked a bit, as he read the next few lines, more or less repeating the discussion.

… ‘We’ve had famous people in this cab!’ Anger exclaimed. ‘Jason! You remember him?’

“Are they ever actually helpful?” Chris asked.

“Sometimes,” Hermes said.

… Wasp swerved hard onto Delancey Street, squishing me between Tyson and the door.

Percy sucked in a breath, wincing at the pressure that appeared around his ribs.

She punched the gas and we shot up the Williamsburg Bridge at seventy miles an hour.

“They won’t get hurt, will they?” Sally asked.

“I don’t think they ever  get anyone hurt,” Apollo reassured her. “They’re just … not very safe.”

… ‘Uh, if anybody’s interested,’ I said, ‘we’re going to die!’

Sally took a deep breath. It was only the third chapter, for Olympus’s sake.

‘Don’t worry,’ Annabeth told me, sounding pretty worried.

“Well, that’s comforting as well,” Malcolm said.

‘The Grey Sisters know what they’re doing. They’re really very wise.’

“If you say so,” Percy muttered. “Not good drivers though.”

This coming from the daughter of Athena …

“That’s a good point,” Nico said. “It’s not like Annabeth to say things like that and not mean them.”

“You weren’t in the car,” Percy said darkly.

… We were skimming along the edge of a bridge forty metres above the East River.

“At least you’d be alright if you did go over the edge,” Amphitrite said.

‘Yes, wise! … We know things!’

… ‘The location you seek!’ Tempest added.

“Hello!” Michael said, sitting forward. “What location?”

“Good question,” Malcolm agreed, readying his pen.

… ‘What’ I said. ‘What location? I’m not seeking any –’

‘Nothing!’ Tempest said. ‘You’re right, boy. It’s nothing!’

“Percy won’t take that,” Piper said confidently.

… There was a sickening pop and something flew out of Anger’s face.

“Oh no,” Silena said, grimacing. “Is that what I think it is?”

… The slimy green orb sailed over her shoulder, into the back seat, and straight into my lap.

“Yes,” Clarisse answered, grinning. “It is what you think it is.”

… ‘Give me the eye!’ Wasp wailed.

‘Give her the eye!’ Annabeth screamed.

“Give her the eye!” Several people shouted.

“This was two years ago!” Percy retorted. “I can’t do anything now.”

… ‘I’m not picking that up!’

“Percy, I have seen you do more disgusting things than pick up an eyeball,” Thalia said, rolling her eyes.

“That’s usually because you’re helping me,” Percy said.

… ‘Going to be sick!’ Tyson warned.

“Duck!” Amphitrite warned.

‘Annabeth,’ I yelled, ‘let Tyson use your backpack!’

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” Annabeth said. “Even now. That’s not happening.”

‘Are you crazy? Get the eye!’

“I’m not sure which is the more pressing issue,” Sally said.

Wasp yanked the wheel, and the taxi swerved away from the rail.

Annabeth and Percy both jolted.

… At least I steeled my nerves. I ripped off a chunk of my tie-dyed T-shirt … and used it to pick the eyeball off the floor.

“Okay, now give it back!” Sally said.

“No, find out what location you want,” Travis said eagerly.

… ‘What were you talking about, the location I speak?’

“Brilliant,” Connor said, grinning.

… ‘Percy,’ Annabeth warned, ‘they can’t find our destination without the eye. We’ll just keep accelerating until we break into a million pieces.’

“Or give it back,” Travis said. “That’s god too.”

‘First they have to tell me,’ I said. ‘Or I’ll open the window and throw the eye into oncoming traffic.’

“Empty threat,” Hermes said. “Try to avoid those unless you have no other choice.”

… ‘Wait!’ the Grey Sisters screamed. ‘Thirty, thirty-one, seventy-five, twelve!’

“What?” Malcolm asked. “What good is that?”

“Write it down anyway,” Annabeth said. “It’s probably important.”

Malcolm scribbled down the numbers, muttering them under his breath. “Are they … Are they coordinates?”

“Maybe,” Annabeth said, frowning. “But for what?”

Luke’s eyes widened and he caught Thalia’s eye.

She nodded.

… ‘That’s all we can tell you. Now give us the eye! Almost to camp!’

“Also, know when you’re beaten,” Hermes advised.

… I could see Half-Blood Hill ahead of us, with its giant pine tree at the crest – Thalia’s tree, which contained the life force of a fallen hero.

“That’s sweet,” Thalia said, “but very depressing.”

“How did that happen?” Bianca asked.

“I died,” Thalia said bluntly. “Well, I mostly died. Father turned me into a pine tree.”

“Then … how are you not a tree now?” Bianca asked.

Thalia gave her a smile. “You’ll see.”

‘Percy!’ Annabeth said more urgently. ‘Give them the eye now!”

“Please …” Sally whispered.

I decided not to argue.

“Makes a nice change,” Thalia and Nico managed to say more or less in unison.

… The taxi spun four or five times in a cloud of smoke and squealed to a halt in the middle of the farm road at the base of Half-Blood Hill.

“Thank goodness,” Sally murmured, relaxing in her seat. “Thank goodness.”

Tyson let out a huge belch. ‘Better now.’

“Well, that’s something at least,” Silena said, grimacing.

‘All right,’ I told the Grey Sisters. ‘Now tell me what those numbers mean.’

“They won’t tell you,” Hermes said. “They never do. It’s like the Oracle.”

‘No time!’ Annabeth opened her door.

“Wait a minute,” Luke said. “Since when do you not want to know something?”

“I had bigger problems,” Annabeth answered vaguely.

‘We have to get out now.’

None of the younger campers knew what was wrong, but they were picking up on Annabeth’s second-hand fear.

… At the crest of the hill was a group of campers. And they were under attack.

“That’s impossible,” Chiron said flatly. “The boundary line would prevent it. Even if monsters got there, they couldn’t get in.”
Apollo and Hermes exchanged a dark look, but said nothing.

“That’s the end of the chapter,” Jason said.

“Here,” Reyna said, holding out a hand. “I’ll do it.”

Out of everyone, she probably had the weakest connection to Thalia. Hopefully, she could get through it more or less in one go.

Chapter Text

Reyna turned to the next page and took a deep breath.

Chapter Four

Tyson Plays with Fire

“Well, that’s an excellent start right there,” Beckendorf said dryly.

Mythologically speaking …

“No, that’s an excellent start,” Travis said, grinning. “That’s the start of a brilliant sentence, I can just tell.”

Reyna just rolled her eyes – she hadn’t known the Stolls for that long, but she was already used to them – and started again.

Mythologically  speaking, if there’s anything I hate worse than trios of old ladies, it’s bulls.

“And you were right,” Connor said. “Just brilliant.”

Last summer, I fought the Minotaur … This time what I saw up there was even worse: two bulls.

“That’s not too bad,” Silena said brightly.

… bronze ones the size of elephants … Naturally they had to breath fire, too.

“Never mind,” Silena said with a sigh.

“Colchis bulls,” Lee said grimly. “You think Tyson’s a match for them?”

“Well, if he was a match for the – uh – Canadians,” Luke said, his lips twitching in a smile, “he should be a match for the bulls, whatever he is.”

As soon as we exited … the Grey Sisters peeled out … They didn’t even wait for their extra three-drachma payment.

“They wouldn’t,” Hermes said, frowning. “They don’t like conflict.”
… What worried me most weren’t the bulls themselves.

“That didn’t worry you?” Michael asked.

Or the ten heroes in full battle armour who were getting their bronze-plated booties whooped.

“But how?” Aphrodite asked, putting a protective hand on Silena’s arm. “Chiron said so himself, the bulls can’t get past the tree.”

What worried me was that the bulls were ranging all over the hill, even around the back side of the tree.

“In which case, there should be more than ten of us,” Lee said sharply. “I don’t know how they’re doing it, but there’ll be younger kids there.”

“Not yet maybe,” Michael said. “Summer season hasn’t technically started.”

“Except a lot of the younger kids are at Camp that young because they’ve got nowhere else to go,” Lee said. “They’ll be year-rounders.”

… The camp’s magical boundaries didn’t allow monsters to cross past Thalia’s tree.

“So how are they doing it?” Luke muttered under his breath, tense with worry.

… One of the heroes shouted, ‘Border patrol, to me!’

“We haven’t had border patrol for a long time,” Lee said sadly. “Not since …”

“Not since I died I’d imagine,” Thalia said, her voice strangely unemotional.

“Well, a little bit afterwards,” Lee said. “It took us a little while to figure out about the boundary line.”

A girl’s voice – gruff and familiar.

“Only just back for summer season and you’re already leading border patrol,” Silena said, smiling.

Clarisse rolled her eyes. “Well, obviously.”

… Normally, rushing to Clarisse’s aid would not have been high on my ‘to do’ list.

“I’m sure that’s mutual,” Clarisse muttered.

… I’d had a very serious disagreement with her father last summer …

“I wouldn’t call that a disagreement,” Aphrodite said. “You just found out he’d been an idiot.”

… so now the god of war and all his children basically hated my guts.

“That’s not just you,” Annabeth said. “I think they hate most of us.”

“We carry grudges that aren’t ours,” Clarisse retorted. “Don’t pretend you never do that.”

“Clearly not,” Annabeth said, nodding to her future self, who was holding hands with her boyfriend.

Still, she was in trouble.

“Of course you were going to help,” Nico said. “That’s a given.”

Her fellow warriors were scattering … She was fighting with a broken spear shaft, the other end embedded uselessly in the metal joint of one bull’s shoulder.

“Well, that’s not good,” Aphrodite said, frowning.

“Always carry an extra weapon,” Athena said to the campers. “Just in case something like this happens.”

I uncapped my ballpoint pen.

Travis sniggered. “You know, if we didn’t know it turned into a sword, that would sound so, so weird.”

… ‘Tyson, stay here. I don’t want you taking any more chances.’

“You still haven’t figured it out?” Thalia asked.

Percy sighed. “Be nice to me.”

… ‘Percy, do you know what those are up there?

“No,” Percy answered, bewildered.

The Colchis bulls, made by Hephaestus himself.

“But they were a gift for a demigod, right?” Luke asked. “King Aeetes was a son of Helios, wasn’t he?”

“That is true,” Apollo confirmed. “But they are still monsters, and they would have been tied to Aeetes – anyone else would be in danger.”

We can’t fight them without Medea’s Sunscreen SPF 50,000.

“That’s was the girl my namesake screwed over, right?” Jason asked.

Piper nodded with a grimace. “That’s the one.”

She might have sympathised with Medea under other circumstances, but that sympathy was somewhat stymied by Medea’s attempt to kill them.

‘Medea’s what?’

“Percy,” Nico said seriously, “have you ever tried to read Greek mythology or do you just wing it?”

“Mostly I wing it,” Percy admitted. “Annabeth’s usually there and she knows everything anyway. Besides, you can’t expect me to remember every single monster I ever read about.”

“I do,” Annabeth said.

“Yes, but you’re you,” Percy said. “We all have our strengths; that one’s yours.”

… ‘I had a jar of tropical coconut scent sitting on my nightstand at home. Why didn’t I bring it?’

“It wouldn’t do you much good,” Athena said, looking much worried. “But it would be better than nothing, I suppose.”

I’d learned a long time ago not to question Annabeth too much. It just made me more confused.

A few people laughed.

‘Look … I’m not going to let Tyson get fried.’

“So why start questioning me now?” Annabeth asked with a sigh.

“Because you’d never actually told me what was going on,” Percy answered. “So far you’d just insulted him and implied that I was an idiot.”

“Too easy,” Thalia decided.

… Tyson tried to protest …

“I don’t think he realised I didn’t know,” Percy said.

“To be fair, I don’t think he realised he wasn’t … you know … like you,” Annabeth said. “I mean, he knew he wasn’t like you, but he didn’t know …”

“I get it,” Percy said with a sigh.

… but I was already running up the hill towards Clarisse, who was yelling … trying to get them into phalanx formation.

“Excellent idea,” Athena said, “but you probably don’t have enough people for it to work.”

… Unfortunately, Clarisse could only muster six campers.

Athena grimaced. “It might still work.”

… Annabeth ran towards them … She taunted one of the bulls into chasing her …

“Do I need to talk to you about self-preservation as well?” Thalia asked.

“No, because then you’d be a hypocrite,” Annabeth said. “And I know you hate those.”

Thalia pulled a face at her. “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Annabeth snorted. “Oh gods, you are such a mom.”

… then turned invisible, complete confusing the monsters.

“Alright, you had a plan,” Thalia conceded. “I’ll let you off.”
Percy rolled his eyes. “It’s Annabeth, Thalia. Of course she had a plan.”

The other bull charged Clarisse’s line.

“One’s better than two,” Silena said hopefully.

“Still not great though,” Clarisse said grimly.

I was halfway up the hill – not close enough to help.

“How did Annabeth get there that fast then?” Nico asked.

“Annabeth’s always been faster than me,” Percy said. “It’s only recently I’ve started to catch up.”

Clarisse hadn’t even seen me yet.

Clarisse frowned, even as her father said, “Observation, kid; it’s important.”

“Give her a break,” Aphrodite said. “She’s a little distracted.”

The bull moved deadly fast for something so big.

“That was kind of the point,” Hephaestus admitted.

… When it opened its hinged mouth, a column of white hot flame blasted out.

“Duck!” Several people shouted.

‘Hold the line!’ Clarisse ordered her warriors.

“Are you insane?” Silena demanded.

Whatever else you could say about Clarisse, she was brave.

“That’s one word for it,” Silena muttered.

… but I didn’t see how even she could stand against that bull’s charge.

“I can handle it,” Clarisse said, but she didn’t look convinced.

Unfortunately, at that moment, the other bull lost interest in finding Annabeth … ‘Behind you!’ I yelled. ‘Look out!’

“Shouldn’t have done that,” Clarisse scowled.

“I know,” Percy said. “I realised that as soon as I said it.”

I shouldn’t have said anything, because all I did was startle her.

“It’s the catch-22,” Reyna said, pausing. “If you hadn’t said anything and something happened, you’d feel guilty.”

Bull Number One crashed into her shield … Clarisse went flying backwards and landed in a smouldering patch of grass.

“At least we know we’re not getting the effects of the book,” Silena said, when Clarisse didn’t flinch.

“Percy and I didn’t get anything in the last book,” Annabeth pointed out.

“Yes, but your future selves are here,” Silena said, proving that it wasn’t just Athena’s children who got logic. “They might be getting the effects instead.”

The bull charged past her, but not before blasting the other heroes … Their shields melted right off their arms.

Lee sucked in a breath. “That’s hot – third degree burns, I’m guessing, at the very least.

They dropped their weapons and ran …

“Seriously?” Clarisse demanded.

“People react differently to that kind of pain,” Annabeth said. “And none of them was used to that kind of conflict. It was later in the war that that changed.”

… I lunged forwards and grabbed Clarisse by the straps of her armour. I dragged her out of the way just as Bull Number Two freight-trained past.

Silena breathed a sigh of relief. “At least Percy reacted.”

Clarisse scowled. “I won’t thank you for that, you know.”
“I know,” Percy said, with a mild smile. “It used to frustrate me, but I’ve just got used to it now.”

“It really annoys our Clarisse,” Annabeth said. “It doesn’t matter how many times she yells or curses, Percy just smiles and tells her she’s welcome.”

I gave it a good swipe with Riptide … but the monster just creaked and groaned and kept going.

“Yeah, you’re going to need help,” Lee said.

… It’s body temperature could’ve microwaved a frozen burrito.

“Good job it didn’t touch you then,” Sally said, her voice deceptively upbeat.

‘Let me go! … Percy, curse you!’

“Honestly,” Silena sighed. “If he hadn’t grabbed you, you’d be dead.”

“I said I wouldn’t thank him,” Clarisse said.

I dropped her in a heap next  to the pine tree and turned to face the bulls.

“Just be careful,” Sally murmured.

We were on the inside slope of the hill now …

Thalia held back a shiver. She had no real memory of the poisoning, or even of really being a tree, but she did remember a sense of wrongness in the darkness that she attributed to monsters getting past her protection.

… the valley of Camp Half-Blood directly below us … all of it at risk if these bulls got past us.

Chiron was looking increasingly concerned.

Annabeth shouted orders to the other heroes … Bull Number One ran a wide arc … As it passed the middle of the hill, where the invisible boundary line should’ve kept it out, it slowed down a little, as if it were struggling against a strong wind …

Thalia grimaced, squirming in place.

“Can you feel that?” Piper asked.

“Not exactly,” Thalia answered. “It’s like … you know that shiver you get sometimes? They call it someone walking over your grave? It’s like that.”

“Well,” Percy said. “In your case, they kind of were.”

… Bull Number Two turned to face me … I couldn’t tell if it felt any pain …

“They don’t,” Hephaestus said. “But they know the concept.”

I couldn’t fight both bulls at the same time.

“No one could,” Lee said.

… My arms already felt tired.

“Someone hasn’t been practicing,” Thalia said.

Sally frowned. “Percy, just because you can’t practice inside the apartment doesn’t mean we couldn’t have found you somewhere you could.”

“I know,” Percy said. “I didn’t make that mistake again.”

I realised how long it had been since I worked out with Riptide, how out of practice I was.

“That’ll make things harder,” Jason muttered.

I lunged but Bull Number Two blew flames at me … the air turned to pure heat.

Percy sucked in a breath, coughing harshly.

All the oxygen was sucked out of my lungs.

“Why did I say that,” Percy said, still coughing.

Annabeth rubbed his back. “Just try to breath.”

My foot caught on something – a tree root maybe …

“Sorry,” Thalia said.

“Not your fault,” Percy said, rubbing his throat.

… and pain shot up by ankle.

Percy grimaced.

“Want some ambrosia?” Will asked.

“No thanks,” Percy said. “It’s only the memory. Right?”

Will leaned down and pressed two fingers to Percy’s ankle. “At the moment, yes.”

Still, I managed to … lop off part of the monster’s snout … I tried to stand, and my left leg buckled underneath me. My ankle was sprained, maybe broken.

Percy sucked in a breath. “Okay, maybe I’ll take the ambrosia now.”

Will frowned and leaned over to touch his ankle again. “Okay, now you’ve got a nasty sprain.”

“It’s fascinating how this works,” Annabeth said.

“Fascinating isn’t the word I’d use,” Percy said, nibbling on an ambrosia square.

“Catch,” Jason said suddenly.

Percy held up a hand automatically, catching the wet wash cloth – no one had seen Jason get up, but he certainly wasn’t going to complain. “Thanks.”
Bull Number One charged straight towards me. No way I could crawl out of its path.

“Tyson!” Connor said suddenly. “He could help, right?”

Annabeth shouted, ‘Tyson, help him!’

“Wow, you must have been worried,” Malcolm said, “given how you’ve treated him up until now.”

His sister gave him a dirty look, but said nothing.

Somewhere near, towards the crest of the hill, Tyson wailed, ‘Can’t – get- through!’

“Uh oh,” Michael murmured.

“What?” Will asked.

“If the bulls can get through but Tyson can’t,” Michael said, “he must be considered worse than them.”

‘I, Annabeth Chase, give you permission to enter camp!’

“That’ll work,” Thalia said, “although you’ll get some stick for it.”

Annabeth shrugged. “Needs must. Besides, Tyson’s a sweetheart.”

Thunder shook the hillside.

Apollo winced. “Uh oh.”

Suddenly Tyson was there … Before I could tell him no, he dived between me and the bull just as it unleashed a nuclear fire-storm.

Several people cried out in alarm, including Silena.

Her mother hugged her close. “It’s alright, darling. Whatever Tyson is, he’s stronger than that.”

… The blast swirled around him … I knew with horrible certainty that my friend had just been turned into a column of ashes.

“How have you still not cottoned on?” Nico asked.

“Well, it’s not like anyone told me,” Percy said, a little grumpily.

But when the fire died, Tyson was still standing there … balled his fists and slammed them into the bull’s face. ‘BAD COW!’

“Straight to the point,” Travis said, grinning. “I like him.”

His fist made a crater …

Beckendorf let out a low whistle. “Kid’s strong.”

… Tyson hit it again, and the bronze crumpled under his hands like aluminium foil.

“Very, very strong,” Beckendorf amended. “What is he?”

The bull’s face now looked like a sock puppet pulled inside out.

“Huh,” Annabeth said. “If you’d asked me, I would never have used that description, but now you’ve said it ... that is exactly what it looked like.”

… The bull staggered and fell on its back.

The campers cheered.

... Annabeth ran over to check on me.

“Worried?” Thalia asked.

“A little bit,” Annabeth admitted. “I hadn’t spent much time with him at that point, but I had come to learn that he will try and walk off just about anything, so if he collapses, it’s probably not good.”

My ankle felt like it was filled with acid …

Percy groaned. “I hate myself.”
… she gave me some Olympian nectar to drink from her canteen, and I immediately started to feel better.

“Oh good, you did get something,” Will said. “That explains why the ribs were fixed up. Although not how you managed all that without them puncturing something.”

There was a burning smell that I later learned was me.

Percy and Annabeth immediately pulled a face. Curiously, so did Will.

“Dude, you weren’t even on the hill at that point,” Percy said. “Why are you getting it?”

“It drifted,” Will said, trying not to gag. “It was … interesting.”

The hair on my arms had been completely singed off.

Sally grimaced. “At least it’s not scarring. It grew back, right?”

Percy nodded, still grimacing from the smell. “Yeah, it dd.”

… Clarisse had taken care of Bad Cow Number Two.

Clarisse grinned triumphantly.

… it was trying to run in slow motion, going in circles like some kind of merry-go-round animal.

Malcolm was scribbling frantically.

“What are you making notes on right now?” Connor asked.

“How to deal with these things if we come across them,” Malcolm said, pushing his glasses back into place and leaving an ink smudge on his nose.

Annabeth just sighed, being used to that, and wordlessly handed him a tissue.

Clarisse pulled off her helmet and marched towards us.

“Uh oh!” Travis and Connor chorused.

… ‘You – ruin – everything!’ she yelled at me. ‘I had it under control!’

Athena frowned. “This is no time for egos.  When it’s life or death, you take whatever help comes your way if it keeps you alive.”

“My kids shouldn’t need help,” Ares grunted.

“Oh, get over yourself,” Aphrodite snapped, feeling Clarisse flinch beside Silena. “Needing help is not a weakness!”

Rather wisely, Reyna decided to keep reading before the argument could escalate.

I was too stunned to answer … ‘Clarisse,’ Annabeth said, ‘you’ve got wounded campers.’

… ‘I’ll be back,’ she growled, then trudged off to assess the damage.

“It wasn’t too bad,” Will said hastily. “Mostly a lot of bad burns, but nothing we couldn’t fix.”

I stared at Tyson. ‘You didn’t die.’

“Seriously?” Thalia asked. “You still haven’t cottoned on?”

… ‘I am sorry. Came to help. Disobeyed you.’

“Oh, bless him,” Sally said. “As if anyone would be upset about that.”

‘My fault,’ Annabeth said. ‘I had no choice … Percy, have you ever looked at Tyson closely? … Ignore the Mist and really look at him.’

“Finally,” Malcolm muttered. “I want to know what he is.”

… I looked Tyson in the face … I forced myself to focus at his big lumpy nose, then a little higher at his eyes. No, not eyes. One eye.

“Crap, he’s a cyclops,” Lee said in shock. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Percy said.

“We should have known really,” Luke said, a little faintly. “I thought I’d heard his name somewhere before – Percy and Annabeth mentioned it really early in the first book when it mentioned a cyclops.”

“Aren’t they dangerous?” Silena asked.

“Very,” Percy agreed. “I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of one. But Tyson is … not different, so much as …”

“Tyson loves Percy,” Annabeth finished. “He’s safe. Well, safe for anyone Percy likes, anyway.”

“Tyson doesn’t like fighting,” Percy said. “Even then, you’d have to be a pretty big threat before he became a problem.”

“That’s true,” Annabeth conceded. She fixed the room with a steely glare. “So saying, I was pretty awful to Tyson when I first met him, I will admit that. And Percy, while he wasn’t awful to Tyson’s face, because I don’t think he has it in him, was probably a bit awful in his own head, which is obviously about to be broadcast.”

“We were both wrong,” Percy said. “And no one else is allowed to be horrible about him, okay?”

“Hey, no arguments here,” Travis said. “We’ve been saying how awesome he is; why should that change now we know what he is?”

… ‘A baby, by the looks of him … Tyson’s one of the homeless orphans … They’re in almost all the big cities … Children of nature spirits and gods …

“One god,” Amphitrite muttered, rolling her eyes good-naturedly at her husband.

… and they don’t always come out right. No one wants them.

Amphitrite frowned. “That’s not right … We’d take them down in the forges, easily.”

… We should take him to Chiron, let him decide what to do.’

“Good idea,” Chiron said, frowning.  “Although quite what I’ll do, I don’t know right now.”

“You’ll have to claim him, darling,” Amphitrite said to Poseidon. “At least then he can stay; I don’t want him to get thrown back on the streets again.”

… I was completely shocked … But I didn’t have much time to think about it just then … there were still two banged-up bronze bulls to dispose of, which I didn’t figure would fit in our normal recycling bins.

There was a round of nervous laughter. Everyone seemed to be coming to terms with what Tyson was; the bigger concern was the danger at Camp and why the protections were failing.

Clarisse came back over … ‘We need to carry the wounded back to the Big House, let Tantalus know what’s happened.’

An icy chill fell over the room, seemingly emanating from a few of the gods.

“What is he doing out of the Underworld?” Hades asked in a low voice.

Persephone placed a hand on his arm. “Dear, there must be a reasonable explanation.”

“I’d love to hear it,” Apollo said in a clipped voice, his usual happy-go-lucky demeanour a distant memory.

‘Tantalus?’ I asked.

‘The activities director,’ Clarisse said impatiently.

“Wait a second,” Hermes said. “Chiron is the activities director.”

“I assume I have been replaced,” Chiron said frowning.

“But why?” Apollo asked. “That’s been your role for a thousand years; why replace you? And even if there’s a good reason, who on Olympus decided to replace you with the guy who cooked his own children into pies?!”

‘Chiron is the activities director … He can’t just be gone. What happened?’

“Whatever it is, it must be bad to remove Argus as well,” Hera said. “Surely Zeus is the only one who would do that, but why would you? You’ve never concerned yourself with Camp before.”

Her husband didn’t answer. His gaze was fixed on Thalia, who was strangely still, watching Reyna with an almost serene expression.

That happened,’ Clarisse snapped.

She pointed to Thalia’s tree.

Luke sucked in a breath, feeling his father’s hand settle on his shoulder.

Reyna kept reading, through the recounting of Thalia’s last stand on Half-Blood Hill, her voice slowing.

… The pine had been here ever since, strong and healthy.

But now, its needles were yellow. A huge pile of dead ones littered the base of the tree. In the centre of the trunk, a metre from the ground, was a puncture mark the size of a bullet hole, oozing green sap.

Over the cries of horror, Thalia sucked in a hitched breath.

“Alright?” Will murmured beside her.

“Maybe,” she muttered back.

A sliver of ice ran through my chest.

Percy barely squirmed at the sensation, his worried eyes fixed on his cousin.

… The magical borders were failing because Thalia’s tree was dying.

Someone had poisoned it.

As Reyna’s voice faded away, Thalia stifled a cough. “Well, this isn’t that bad.”

“Are you sure?” Percy asked.

“Yeah,” Thalia said. “I can’t …” She coughed again.

Will pressed a hand against her forehead. “You’ve got a fever,” he said in a low voice. “And, um, there’s a stain on your shirt.”

Thalia frowned, tugging her shirt down to find a gaping wound over her heart, like the flesh had rotted away. “Oh, that’s not good.”

“Thalia,” her father called over. “Are you alright?”

Thalia swallowed hard. “I … I don’t know.” She glanced over and met Luke’s guilt-filled eyes. “I don’t think …”

Before she could finish speaking, her world went black.