"Percy!" he said. "Thank the gods. But where . . ."
Annabeth ran in right behind him, and I'll admit my heart did a little relay race in my chest when I saw her. It's not that she tried to look good. We'd been doing so many combat missions lately, she hardly brushed her curly blond hair anymore, and she didn't care what clothes she was wearing—usually the same old orange camp T-shirt and jeans, and once in a while her bronze armor. Her eyes were stormy gray. Most of the time we couldn't get through a conversation without trying to strangle each other. Still, just seeing her made me feel fuzzy in the head. Last summer, before Luke had turned into Kronos and everything went sour, there had been a few times when I thought maybe . . . well, that we might get past the strangle-each-other phase.
"What happened?" She grabbed my arm. "Is Luke—"
"The ship blew up," I said. "He wasn't destroyed. I don't know where—"
Silena Beauregard pushed through the crowd. Her hair wasn't combed and she wasn't even wearing makeup, which wasn't like her.
"Where's Charlie?" she demanded, looking around like he might be hiding.
I glanced at Chiron helplessly.
The old centaur cleared his throat. "Silena, my dear, let's talk about this at the Big House—"
"No," she muttered. "No. No."
She started to cry, and the rest of us stood around, too stunned to speak. We'd already lost so many people over the summer, but this was the worst. With Beckendorf gone, it felt like someone had stolen the anchor for the entire camp.
Finally Clarisse from the Ares cabin came forward. She put her arm around Silena. They had one of the strangest friendships ever—a daughter of the war god and a daughter of the love goddess—but ever since Silena had given Clarisse advice last summer about her first boyfriend, Clarisse had decided she was Silena's personal bodyguard.
Clarisse was dressed in her bloodred combat armor, her brown hair tucked into a bandana. She was as big and beefy as a rugby player, with a permanent scowl on her face, but she spoke gently to Silena.
"Come on, girl," she said. "Let's get to the Big House. I'll make you some hot chocolate."
Everyone turned and wandered off in twos and threes, heading back to the cabins. Nobody was excited to see me now. Nobody wanted to hear about the blown-up ship.
Only Annabeth and Chiron stayed behind.
Annabeth wiped a tear from her cheek. "I'm glad you're not dead, Seaweed Brain."
"Thanks," I said. "Me too."
Chiron put a hand on my shoulder. "I'm sure you did everything you could, Percy. Will you tell us what happened?"
I didn't want to go through it again, but I told them the story, including my dream about the Titans. I left out the detail about Nico. Nico had made me promise not to tell anybody about his plan until I made up my mind, and the plan was so scary I didn't mind keeping it a secret.
Chiron gazed down at the valley. "We must call a war council immediately, to discuss this spy, and other matters."
"Poseidon mentioned another threat," I said. "Something even bigger than the Princess Andromeda. I thought it might be that challenge the Titan had mentioned in my dream."
Chiron and Annabeth exchanged looks, like they knew something I didn't. I hated when they did that.
"We will discuss that also," Chiron promised.
"One more thing." I took a deep breath. "When I talked to my father, he said to tell you it's time. I need to know the full prophecy."
Chiron's shoulders sagged, but he didn't look surprised. "I've dreaded this day. Very well. Annabeth, we will show Percy the truth—all of it. Let's go to the attic."
* * *
I’d been to the Big House attic three times before, which was three times more than I wanted to.
A ladder led up from the top of the staircase. I wondered how Chiron was going to get up there, being half horse and all, but he didn't try.
"You know where it is," he told Annabeth. "Bring it down, please."
Annabeth nodded. "Come on, Percy."
The sun was setting outside, so the attic was even darker and creepier than usual. Old hero trophies were slacked everywhere—dented shields, pickled heads in jars from various monsters, a pair of fuzzy dice on a bronze plaque that read: STOLEN FROM CHRYSAOR'S HONDA CIVIC, BY GUS, SON OF HERMES, 1988.
I picked up a curved bronze sword so badly bent it looked like the letter M. I could still see green stains on the metal from the magical poison that used to cover it. The tag was dated last summer. It read: Scimitar of Kampê, destroyed in the Battle of the Labyrinth.
"You remember Briares throwing those boulders?" I asked.
Annabeth gave me a grudging smile. "And Grover causing a Panic?"
We locked eyes. I thought of a different time last summer, under Mount St. Helens, when Annabeth thought I was going to die and she kissed me.
She cleared her throat and looked away. "Prophecy."
"Right." I put down the scimitar. "Prophecy."
We walked over to the window. On a three-legged stool sat the Oracle—a shriveled female mummy in a tie-dyed dress. Tufts of black hair clung to her skull. Glassy eyes stared out of her leathery face. Just looking at her made my skin crawl.
If you wanted to leave camp during the summer, it used to be you had to come up here to get a quest. This summer, that rule had been tossed. Campers left all the time on combat missions. We had no choice if we wanted to stop Kronos.
Still, I remembered too well the strange green mist—the spirit of the Oracle—that lived inside the mummy. She looked lifeless now, but whenever she spoke a prophecy, she moved. Sometimes fog gushed out of her mouth and created strange shapes. Once, she'd even left the attic and taken a little zombie stroll into the woods to deliver a message. I wasn't sure what she'd do for the "Great Prophecy." I half expected her to start tap dancing or something.
But she just sat there like she was dead—which she was.
"I never understood this," I whispered.
"What?" Annabeth asked.
"Why it's a mummy."
"Percy, she didn't used to be a mummy. For thousands of years the spirit of the Oracle lived inside a beautiful maiden. The spirit would be passed on from generation to generation. Chiron told me she was like that fifty years ago." Annabeth pointed at the mummy. "But she was the last."
Annabeth started to say something, then apparently changed her mind. "Let's just do our job and get out of here."
I looked nervously at the Oracle's withered face. "So what now?"
Annabeth approached the mummy and held out her palms. "O Oracle, the time is at hand. I ask for the Great Prophecy."
I braced myself, but the mummy didn't move. Instead, Annabeth approached and unclasped one of its necklaces. I’d never paid too much attention to its jewelry before. I figured it was just hippie love beads and stuff. But when Annabeth turned toward me, she was holding a leather pouch—like a Native American medicine pouch on a cord braided with feathers. She opened the bag and took out a roll of parchment no bigger than her pinky.
"No way," I said. "You mean all these years, I've been asking about this stupid prophecy, and it's been right there around her neck?"
"The time wasn't right," Annabeth said. "Believe me, Percy, I read this when I was ten years old, and I still have nightmares about it."
"Great," I said. "Can I read it now?"
"Downstairs at the war council," Annabeth said. "Not in front of . . . you know."
I looked at the glassy eyes of the Oracle, and I decided not to argue. We headed downstairs to join the others. I didn't know it then, but it would be the last time I ever visited the attic.
* * *
The senior counselors had gathered around the Ping-Pong table. Don't ask me why, but the rec room had become the camp's informal headquarters for war councils. When Annabeth, Chiron, and I came in, though, it looked more like a shouting match.
Clarisse was still in full battle gear. Her electric spear was strapped to her back. (Actually, her second electric spear, since I'd broken the first one. She called the spear "Maimer." Behind her back, everybody else called it "Lamer.") She had her boar-shaped helmet under one arm and a knife at her belt.
She was in the midst of yelling at Michael Yew, the new head counselor for Apollo, which looked kind of funny since Clarisse was a foot taller. Michael had taken over the Apollo cabin after Lee Fletcher died in battle last summer. Michael stood four feet six, with another two feet of attitude. He reminded me of a ferret, with a pointy nose and scrunched-up features—either because he scowled so much or because he spent too much time looking down the shaft of an arrow.
"It's our loot!" he yelled, standing on his tiptoes so he could get in Clarisse's face. "If you don't like it, you can kiss my quiver!"
Around the table, people were trying not to laugh—the Stoll brothers, Pollux from the Dionysus cabin, Katie Gardner from Demeter. Even Jake Mason, the hastily appointed new counselor from Hephaestus, managed a faint smile. Only Silena Beauregard didn't pay any attention. She sat beside Clarisse and stared vacantly at the Ping-Pong net. Her eyes were red and puffy. A cup of hot chocolate sat untouched in front of her. It seemed unfair that she had to be here. I couldn't believe Clarisse and Michael standing over her, arguing about something as stupid as loot, when she'd just lost Beckendorf.
"STOP IT!" I yelled. "What are you guys doing?"
Clarisse glowered at me. "Tell Michael not to be a selfish jerk."
"Oh, that's perfect, coming from you," Michael said.
"The only reason I'm here is to support Silena!" Clarisse shouted. "Otherwise I'd be back in my cabin."
"What are you talking about?" I demanded.
Pollux cleared his throat. "Clarisse has refused to speak to any of us, until her, um, issue is resolved. She hasn't spoken for three days."
"It's been wonderful," Travis Stoll said wistfully.
"What issue?" I asked.
Clarisse turned to Chiron. "You're in charge, right? Does my cabin get what we want or not?"
Chiron shuffled his hooves. "My dear, as I've already explained, Michael is correct. Apollo's cabin has the best claim. Besides, we have more important matters—"
"Sure," Clarisse snapped. "Always more important matters than what Ares needs. We're just supposed to show up and light when you need us, and not complain!"
"That would be nice," Connor Stoll muttered.
Clarisse gripped her knife. "Maybe I should ask Mr. D—"
"As you know," Chiron interrupted, his tone slightly angry now, "our director, Dionysus, is busy with the war. He can't be bothered with this."
"I see," Clarisse said. "And the senior counselors? Are any of you going to side with me?"
Nobody was smiling now. None of them met Clarisse's eyes.
"Fine." Clarisse turned to Silena. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get into this when you've just lost . . . Anyway, I apologize. To you. Nobody else."
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