"I'll be traveling a lot," Grover warned, "between protecting nature and finding half-bloods. I may not see you as much."
"Won't change anything," I said. "You're still my best friend."
He grinned. "Except for Annabeth."
"Yeah," he agreed. "It sure is."
In the late afternoon, I was taking one last walk along the beach when a familiar voice said, "Good day for fishing."
My dad, Poseidon, was standing knee-deep in the surf, wearing his typical Bermuda shorts, beat-up cap, and a real subtle pink-and-green Tommy Bahama shirt. He had a deep-sea fishing rod in his hands, and when he cast it the line went way out—like halfway across Long Island Sound.
"Hey, Dad," I said. "What brings you here?"
He winked. "Never really got to talk in private on Olympus. I wanted to thank you."
"Thank me? You came to the rescue."
"Yes, and I got my palace destroyed in the process, but you know—palaces can be rebuilt. I've gotten so many thank-you cards from the other gods. Even Ares wrote one, though I think Hera forced him to. It's rather gratifying. So, thank you. I suppose even the gods can learn new tricks."
The Sound began to boil. At the end of my dad's line, a huge green sea serpent erupted from the water. It thrashed and fought, but Poseidon just sighed. Holding his fishing pole with one hand, he whipped out his knife and cut the line. The monster sank below the surface.
"Not eating size," he complained. "I have to release the little ones or the game wardens will be all over me."
He grinned. "You're doing well with those new cabins, by the way. I suppose this means I can claim all those other sons and daughters of mine and send you some siblings next summer."
Poseidon reeled in his empty line.
I shifted my feet. "Um, you were kidding, right?"
Poseidon gave me one of his inside-joke winks, and I still didn't know whether he was serious or not. "I'll see you soon, Percy. And remember, know which fish are big enough to land, eh?"
With that he dissolved in the sea breeze, leaving a fishing pole lying in the sand.
That evening was the last night of camp—the bead ceremony. The Hephaestus cabin had designed the bead this year. It showed the Empire State Building, and etched in tiny Greek letters, spiraling around the image, were the names of all the heroes who had died defending Olympus. There were too many names, but I was proud to wear the bead. I put it on my camp necklace—four beads now. I felt like an old-timer. I thought about the first campfire I'd ever attended, back when I was twelve, and how I'd felt so at home. That at least hadn't changed.
"Never forget this summer!" Chiron told us. He had healed remarkably well, but he still trotted in front of the fire with a slight limp. "We have discovered bravery and friendship and courage this summer. We have upheld the honor of the camp."
He smiled at me, and everybody cheered. As I looked at the fire, I saw a little girl in a brown dress tending the flames. She winked at me with red glowing eyes. No one else seemed to notice her, but I realized maybe she preferred it that way.
"And now," Chiron said, "early to bed! Remember, you must vacate your cabins by noon tomorrow unless you've made arrangements to stay the year with us. The cleaning harpies will eat any stragglers, and I'd hate to end the summer on a sour note!"
The next morning, Annabeth and I stood at the top of Half-Blood Hill. We watched the buses and vans pull away, taking most of the campers back to the real world. A few old-timers would be staying behind, and a few of the newcomers, but I was heading back to Goode High School for my sophomore year—the first time in my life I'd ever done two years at the same school.
"Good-bye," Rachel said to us as she shouldered her bag. She looked pretty nervous, but she was keeping a promise to her father and attending Clarion Academy in New Hampshire. It would be next summer before we got our Oracle back.
"You'll do great." Annabeth hugged her. Funny, she seemed to get along fine with Rachel these days.
Rachel bit her lip. "I hope you're right. I'm a little worried. What if somebody asks what's on the next math test and I start spouting a prophecy in the middle of geometry class? The Pythagorean theorem shall be problem two. . . . Gods, that would be embarrassing."
Annabeth laughed, and to my relief, it made Rachel smile.
"Well," she said, "you two be good to each other." Go figure, but she looked at me like I was some kind of troublemaker. Before I could protest, Rachel wished us well and ran down the hill to catch her ride.
Annabeth, thank goodness, would be staying in New York. She'd gotten permission from her parents to attend a boarding school in the city so she could be close to Olympus and oversee the rebuilding efforts.
"And close to me?" I asked.
"Well, someone's got a big sense of his own importance." But she laced her fingers through mine. I remembered what she'd told me in New York, about building something permanent, and I thought—just maybe—we were off to a good start.
The guard dragon Peleus curled contentedly around the pine tree underneath the Golden Fleece and began to snore, blowing steam with every breath.
"You've been thinking about Rachel's prophecy?" I asked Annabeth.
She frowned. "How did you know?"
"Because I know you."
She bumped me with her shoulder. "Okay, so I have. Seven half-bloods shall answer the call. I wonder who they'll be. We're going to have so many new faces next summer."
"Yep," I agreed. "And all that stuff about the world falling in storm or fire."
She pursed her lips. "And foes at the Doors of Death. I don't know, Percy, but I don't like it. I thought . . . well, maybe we'd get some peace for a change."
"Wouldn't be Camp Half-Blood if it was peaceful," I said.
"I guess you're right . . . Or maybe the prophecy won't happen for years."
"Could be a problem for another generation of demigods," I agreed. "Then we can kick back and enjoy."
She nodded, though she still seemed uneasy. I didn't blame her, but it was hard to feel too upset on a nice day, with her next to me, knowing that I wasn't really saying good-bye. We had lots of time.
"Race you to the road?" I said.
"You are so going to lose." She took off down Half-Blood Hill and I sprinted after her.
For once, I didn't look back.