The lightning thief, p.44
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       The Lightning Thief, p.44

         Part #1 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
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Page 44

 

  Lukes smile wavered. "I . . . I got overconfident. Zeus sent out his sons and daughters to find the stolen bolt— Artemis, Apollo, my father, Hermes. But it was Ares who caught me. I could have beaten him, but I wasnt careful enough. He disarmed me, took the items of power, threatened to return them to Olympus and burn me alive. Then Kronoss voice came to me and told me what to say. I put the idea in Aress head about a great war between the gods. I said all he had to do was hide the items away for a while and watch the others fight. Ares got a wicked gleam in his eyes. I knew he was hooked. He let me go, and I returned to Olympus before anyone noticed my absence. " Luke drew his new sword. He ran his thumb down the flat of the blade, as if he were hypnotized by its beauty. "Afterward, the Lord of the Titans . . . h-he punished me with nightmares. I swore not to fail again. Back at Camp Half-Blood, in my dreams, I was told that a second hero would arrive, one who could be tricked into taking the bolt and the helm the rest of the way—from Ares down to Tartarus. "

  "You summoned the hellhound, that night in the forest. "

  "We had to make Chiron think the camp wasnt safe for you, so he would start you on your quest. We had to confirm his fears that Hades was after you. And it worked. "

  "The flying shoes were cursed," I said. "They were supposed to drag me and the backpack into Tartarus. "

  "And they would have, if youd been wearing them. But you gave them to the satyr, which wasnt part of the plan. Grover messes up everything he touches. He even confused the curse. "

  Luke looked down at the scorpion, which was now sitting on my thigh. "You should have died in Tartarus, Percy. But dont worry, Ill leave you with my little friend to set things right. "

  "Thalia gave her life to save you," I said, gritting my teeth. "And this is how you repay her?"

  "Dont speak of Thalia!" he shouted. "The gods let her die! Thats one of the many things they will pay for. "

  "Youre being used, Luke. You and Ares both. Dont listen to Kronos. "

  "Ive been used?" Lukes voice turned shrill. "Look at yourself. What has your dad ever done for you? Kronos will rise. Youve only delayed his plans. He will cast the Olympians into Tartarus and drive humanity back to their caves. All except the strongest—the ones who serve him. "

  "Call off the bug," I said. "If youre so strong, fight me yourself"

  Luke smiled. "Nice try, Percy. But Im not Ares. You cant bait me. My lord is waiting, and hes got plenty of quests for me to undertake. "

  "Luke—"

  "Good-bye, Percy. There is a new Golden Age coming. You wont be part of it. "

  He slashed his sword in an arc and disappeared in a ripple of darkness.

  The scorpion lunged.

  I swatted it away with my hand and uncapped my sword. The thing jumped at me and I cut it in half in midair.

  I was about to congratulate myself until I looked down at my hand. My palm had a huge red welt, oozing and smoking with yellow guck. The thing had gotten me after all.

  My ears pounded. My vision went foggy. The water, I thought. It healed me before.

  I stumbled to the creek and submerged my hand, but nothing seemed to happen. The poison was too strong. My vision was getting dark. I could barely stand up.

  Sixty seconds, Luke had told me.

  I had to get back to camp. If I collapsed out here, my body would be dinner for a monster. Nobody would ever know what had happened.

  My legs felt like lead. My forehead was burning. I stumbled toward the camp, and the nymphs stirred from their trees.

  "Help," I croaked. "Please . . . "

  Two of them took my arms, pulling me along. I remember making it to the clearing, a counselor shouting for help, a centaur blowing a conch horn.

  Then everything went black.

  * * *

  I woke with a drinking straw in my mouth. I was sipping something that tasted like liquid chocolate-chip cookies. Nectar.

  I opened my eyes.

  I was propped up in bed in the sickroom of the Big House, my right hand bandaged like a club. Argus stood guard in the corner. Annabeth sat next to me, holding my nectar glass and dabbing a washcloth on my forehead.

  "Here we are again," I said.

  "You idiot," Annabeth said, which is how I knew she was overjoyed to see me conscious. "You were green and turning gray when we found you. If it werent for Chirons healing . . . "

  "Now, now," Chirons voice said. "Percys constitution deserves some of the credit. "

  He was sitting near the foot of my bed in human form, which was why I hadnt noticed him yet. His lower half was magically compacted into the wheelchair, his upper half dressed in a coat and tie. He smiled, but his face looked weary and pale, the way it did when hed been up all night grading Latin papers.

  "How are you feeling?" he asked.

  "Like my insides have been frozen, then microwaved. "

  "Apt, considering that was pit scorpion venom. Now you must tell me, if you can, exactly what happened. "

  Between sips of nectar, I told them the story.

  The room was quiet for a long time.

  "I cant believe that Luke . . . " Annabeths voice faltered. Her expression turned angry and sad. "Yes. Yes, I can believe it. May the gods curse him. . . . He was never the same after his quest. "

  "This must be reported to Olympus," Chiron murmured. "I will go at once. "

  "Luke is out there right now," I said. "I have to go after him. "

  Chiron shook his head. "No, Percy. The gods—"

  "Wont even talk about Kronos," I snapped. "Zeus declared the matter closed!"

  "Percy, I know this is hard. But you must not rush out for vengeance. You arent ready. "

  I didnt like it, but part of me suspected Chiron was right. One look at my hand, and I knew I wasnt going to be sword fighting any time soon. "Chiron . . . your prophecy from the Oracle . . . it was about Kronos, wasnt it? Was I in it? And Annabeth?"

  Chiron glanced nervously at the ceiling. "Percy, it isnt my place—"

  "Youve been ordered not to talk to me about it, havent you?"

  His eyes were sympathetic, but sad. "You will be a great hero, child. I will do my best to prepare you. But if Im right about the path ahead of you . . . "

  Thunder boomed overhead, rattling the windows.

  "All right!" Chiron shouted. "Fine!"

  He sighed in frustration. "The gods have their reasons, Percy. Knowing too much of your future is never a good thing. "

  "We cant just sit back and do nothing," I said.

  "We will not sit back," Chiron promised. "But you must be careful. Kronos wants you to come unraveled. He wants your life disrupted, your thoughts clouded with fear and anger. Do not give him what he wants. Train patiently. Your time will come. "

  "Assuming I live that long. "

  Chiron put his hand on my ankle. "Youll have to trust me, Percy. You will live. But first you must decide your path for the coming year. I cannot tell you the right choice. . . . " I got the feeling that he had a very definite opinion, and it was taking all his willpower not to advise me. "But you must decide whether to stay at CampHalf-Blood year-round, or return to the mortal world for seventh grade and be a summer camper. Think on that. When I get back from Olympus, you must tell me your decision. "

  I wanted to protest. I wanted to ask him more questions. But his expression told me there could be no more discussion; he had said as much as he could.

  "Ill be back as soon as I can," Chiron promised. "Argus will watch over you. "

  He glanced at Annabeth. "Oh, and, my dear . . . whenever youre ready, theyre here. "

  "Whos here?" I asked.

  Nobody answered.

  Chiron rolled himself out of the room. I heard the wheels of his chair clunk carefully down the front steps, two at a time.

  Annabeth studied the ice in my drink.

  "Whats wrong?" I asked her.

  "Nothing. " She set the glass on the table. "I … just took your advi
ce about something. You … um … need anything?"

  "Yeah. Help me up. I want to go outside. "

  "Percy, that isnt a good idea. "

  I slid my legs out of bed. Annabeth caught me before I could crumple to the floor. A wave of nausea rolled over me.

  Annabeth said, "I told you …"

  "Im fine," I insisted. I didnt want to lie in bed like an invalid while Luke was out there planning to destroy the Western world.

  I managed a step forward. Then another, still leaning heavily on Annabeth. Argus followed us outside, but he kept his distance.

  By the time we reached the porch, my face was beaded with sweat. My stomach had twisted into knots. But I had managed to make it all the way to the railing.

  It was dusk. The camp looked completely deserted. The cabins were dark and the volleyball pit silent. No canoes cut the surface of the lake. Beyond the woods and the strawberry fields, the Long Island Sound glittered in the last light of the sun.

  "What are you going to do?" Annabeth asked me.

  "I dont know. "

  I told her I got the feeling Chiron wanted me to stay year-round, to put in more individual training time, but I wasnt sure thats what I wanted. I admitted Id feel bad about leaving her alone, though, with only Clarisse for company….

  Annabeth pursed her lips, then said quietly, "Im going home for the year, Percy. "

  I stared at her. "You mean, to your dads?"

  She pointed toward the crest of Half-Blood Hill. Next to Thalias pine tree, at the very edge of the camps magical boundaries, a family stood silhouetted—two little children, a woman, and a tall man with blond hair. They seemed to be waiting. The man was holding a backpack that looked like the one Annabeth had gotten from Waterland in Denver.

  "I wrote him a letter when we got back," Annabeth said. "Just like you suggested. I told him . . . I was sorry. Id come home for the school year if he still wanted me. He wrote back immediately. We decided . . . wed give it another try. "

  "That took guts. "

  She pursed her lips. "You wont try anything stupid during the school year, will you? At least … not without sending me an Iris-message?"

  I managed a smile. "I wont go looking for trouble. I usually dont have to. "

  "When I get back next summer," she said, "well hunt down Luke. Well ask for a quest, but if we dont get approval, well sneak off and do it anyway. Agreed?"

  "Sounds like a plan worthy of Athena. "

  She held out her hand. I shook it.

  "Take care, Seaweed Brain," Annabeth told me. "Keep your eyes open. "

  "You too, Wise Girl. "

  I watched her walk up the hill and join her family. She gave her father an awkward hug and looked back at the valley one last time. She touched Thalias pine tree, then allowed herself to be lead over the crest and into the mortal world.

  For the first time at camp, I felt truly alone. I looked out at Long Island Sound and I remembered my father saying, The sea does not like to be restrained.

  I made my decision.

  I wondered, if Poseidon were watching, would he approve of my choice?

 
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