"Not all the time," she said. "But there are visions, images, words in my mind. When someone asks me a question, I . . . Oh no—"
"It's starting," Apollo announced.
Rachel doubled over like someone had punched her. Then she stood up straight and her eyes glowed serpent green.
When she spoke, her voice sounded tripled—like three Rachels were talking at once:
"Seven half-bloods shall answer the call.
To storm or fire, the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death."
At the last word, Rachel collapsed. Nico and I caught her and helped her to the porch. Her skin was feverish.
"I'm all right," she said, her voice returning to normal.
"What was that?" I asked.
She shook her head, confused. "What was what?"
"I believe," Apollo said, "that we just heard the next Great Prophecy."
"What does it mean?" I demanded.
Rachel frowned. "I don't even remember what I said."
"No," Apollo mused. "The spirit will only speak through you occasionally. The rest of the time, our Rachel will be much as she's always been. There's no point in grilling her, even if she has just issued the next big prediction for the future of the world."
"What?" I said. "But—"
"Percy," Apollo said, "I wouldn't worry too much. The last Great Prophecy about you took almost seventy years to complete. This one may not even happen in your lifetime."
I thought about the lines Rachel had spoken in that creepy voice: about storm and fire and the Doors of Death. "Maybe," I said, "but it didn't sound so good."
"No," said Apollo cheerfully. "It certainly didn't. She's going to make a wonderful Oracle!"
It was hard to drop the subject, but Apollo insisted that Rachel needed to rest, and she did look pretty disoriented.
"I'm sorry, Percy," she said. "Back on Olympus, I didn't explain everything to you, but the calling frightened me. I didn't think you'd understand."
"I still don't," I admitted. "But I guess I'm happy for you."
Rachel smiled. "Happy probably isn't the right word. Seeing the future isn't going to be easy, but it's my destiny. I only hope my family . . ."
She didn't finish her thought.
"Will you still go to Clarion Academy?" I asked.
"I made a promise to my father. I guess I'll try to be a normal kid during the school year, but—"
"But right now you need sleep," Apollo scolded. "Chiron, I don't think the attic is the proper place for our new Oracle, do you?"
"No, indeed." Chiron looked a lot better now that Apollo had worked some medical magic on him. "Rachel may use a guest room in the Big House for now, until we give the matter more thought."
"I'm thinking a cave in the hills," Apollo mused. "With torches and a big purple curtain over the entrance . . . really mysterious. But inside, a totally decked-out pad with a game room and one of those home theater systems."
Chiron cleared his throat loudly.
"What?" Apollo demanded.
Rachel kissed me on the cheek. "Good-bye, Percy," she whispered. "And I don't have to see the future to tell you what to do now, do I?"
Her eyes seemed more piercing than before.
I blushed. "No."
"Good," she said. Then she turned and followed Apollo into the Big House.
The rest of the day was as strange as the beginning. Campers trickled in from New York by car, pegasus, and chariot. The wounded were cared for. The dead were given proper funeral rites at the campfire.
Silena's shroud was hot pink, but embroidered with an electric spear. The Ares and Aphrodite cabins both claimed her as a hero, and lit the shroud together. No one mentioned the word spy. That secret burned to ashes as the designer perfume smoke drifted into the sky.
Even Ethan Nakamura was given a shroud—black silk with a logo of swords crossed under a set of scales. As his shroud went up in flames, I hoped Ethan knew he had made a difference in the end. He'd paid a lot more than an eye, but the minor gods would finally get the respect they deserved.
Dinner at the pavilion was low-key. The only highlight was Juniper the tree nymph, who screamed, "Grover!" and gave her boyfriend a flying tackle hug, making everybody cheer. They went down to the beach to take a moonlit walk, and I was happy for them, though the scene reminded me of Silena and Beckendorf, which made me sad.
Mrs. O'Leary romped around happily, eating everybody's table scraps. Nico sat at the main table with Chiron and Mr. D, and nobody seemed to think this was out of place. Everybody was patting Nico on the back, complimenting him on his fighting. Even the Ares kids seemed to think he was pretty cool. Hey, show up with an army of undead warriors to save the day, and suddenly you're everybody's best friend.
Slowly, the dinner crowd trickled away. Some went to the campfire for a sing-along. Others went to bed. I sat at the Poseidon table by myself and watched the moonlight on Long Island Sound. I could see Grover and Juniper at the beach, holding hands and talking. It was peaceful.
"Hey." Annabeth slid next to me on the bench. "Happy birthday."
She was holding a huge misshapen cupcake with blue icing.
I stared at her. "What?"
"It's August 18th," she said. "Your birthday, right?"
I was stunned. It hadn't even occurred to me, but she was right. I had turned sixteen this morning—the same morning I'd made the choice to give Luke the knife. The prophecy had come true right on schedule, and I hadn't even thought about the fact that it was my birthday.
"Make a wish," she said.
"Did you bake this yourself?" I asked.
"That explains why it looks like a chocolate brick," I said. "With extra blue cement."
I thought for a second, then blew out the candle.
We cut it in half and shared, eating with our fingers. Annabeth sat next to me, and we watched the ocean. Crickets and monsters were making noise in the woods, but otherwise it was quiet.
"You saved the world," she said.
"We saved the world."
"And Rachel is the new Oracle, which means she won't be dating anybody."
"You don't sound disappointed," I noticed.
Annabeth shrugged. "Oh, I don't care."
She raised an eyebrow. "You got something to say to me, Seaweed Brain?"
"You'd probably kick my butt."
"You know I'd kick your butt."
I brushed the cake off my hands. "When I was at the River Styx, turning invulnerable . . . Nico said I had to concentrate on one thing that kept me anchored to the world, that made me want to stay mortal."
Annabeth kept her eyes on the horizon. "Yeah?"
"Then up on Olympus," I said, "when they wanted to make me a god and stuff, I kept thinking—"
"Oh, you so wanted to."
"Well, maybe a little. But I didn't, because I thought—I didn't want things to stay the same for eternity, because things could always get better. And I was thinking . . ." My throat felt really dry.
"Anyone in particular?" Annabeth asked, her voice soft.
I looked over and saw that she was trying not to smile.
"You're laughing at me," I complained.
"I am not!"
"You are so not making this easy."
Then she laughed for real, and she put her hands around my neck. "I am never, ever going to make things easy for you, Seaweed Brain. Get used to it."
When she kissed me, I had the feeling my brain was melting right through my body.
I could've stayed that way forever, except a voice behind us growled, "Well, it's about time!"
Suddenly the pavilion was filled with torchlight and campers. Clarisse led the way as the eavesdroppers charged and hoisted us both onto their shoulders.
"Oh, come on!" I complained. "Is there no privacy?"
"The lovebirds need to cool off!" Clarisse said with glee.
"The canoe lake!" Connor Stoll shouted.
With a huge cheer, they carried us down the hill, but they kept us close enough to hold hands. Annabeth was laughing, and I couldn't help laughing too, even though my face was completely red.
We held hands right up to the moment they dumped us in the water.
Afterward, I had the last laugh. I made an air bubble at the bottom of the lake. Our friends kept waiting for us to come up, but hey—when you're the son of Poseidon, you don't have to hurry.
And it was pretty much the best underwater kiss of all time.
WE SAY GOOD-BYE,
Camp went late that summer. It lasted two more weeks, right up to the start of a new school year, and I have to admit they were the best two weeks of my life.
Of course, Annabeth would kill me if I said anything different, but there was a lot of other great stuff going on too. Grover had taken over the satyr seekers and was sending them out across the world to find unclaimed half-bloods. So far, the gods had kept their promise. New demigods were popping up all over the place—not just in America, but in a lot of other countries as well.
"We can hardly keep up," Grover admitted one afternoon as we were taking a break at the canoe lake. "We're going to need a bigger travel budget, and I could use a hundred more satyrs."
"Yeah, but the satyrs you have are working super hard," I said. "I think they're scared of you."
Grover blushed. "That's silly. I'm not scary."
"You're a lord of the Wild, dude. The chosen one of Pan. A member of the Council of—"
"Stop it!" Grover protested. "You're as bad as Juniper. I think she wants me to run for president next."
He chewed on a tin can as we stared across the pond at the line of new cabins under construction. The U-shape would soon be a complete rectangle, and the demigods had really taken to the new task with gusto.
Nico had some undead builders working on the Hades cabin. Even though he was still the only kid in it, it was going to look pretty cool: solid obsidian walls with a skull over the door and torches that burned with green fire twenty-four hours a day. Next to that were the cabins of Iris, Nemesis, Hecate, and several others I didn't recognize. They kept adding new ones to the blueprints every day. It was going so well, Annabeth and Chiron were talking about adding an entirely new wing of cabins just so they could have enough room.
The Hermes cabin was a lot less crowded now, because most of the unclaimed kids had received signs from their godly parents. It happened almost every night, and every night more demigods straggled over the property line with the satyr guides, usually with some nasty monsters pursuing them, but almost all of them made it through.
"It's going to be a lot different next summer," I said. "Chiron's expecting we'll have twice as many campers."
"Yeah," Grover agreed, "but it'll be the same old place."
He sighed contentedly.
I watched as Tyson led a group of Cyclops builders. They were hoisting huge stones in place for the Hecate cabin, and I knew it was a delicate job. Each stone was engraved with magical writing, and if they dropped one, it would either explode or turn everyone within half a mile into a tree. I figured nobody but Grover would like that.
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