"Tyson!" I yelled.
He didn't hear me at first because of the hammering and the roar of the flames.
He turned, and his one enormous eye widened. His face broke into a crooked yellow grin. "Percy!"
He dropped the sword blade and ran at me, trying to give me a hug. The vision blurred and I instinctively lurched back. "Tyson, it's an Iris-message. I'm not really here."
"Oh." He came back into view, looking embarrassed. "Oh, I knew that. Yes."
"How are you?" I asked. "How's the job?"
His eye lit up. "Love the job! Look!" He picked up the hot sword blade with his bare hands. "I made this!"
"That's really cool."
"I wrote my name on it. Right there."
"Awesome. Listen, do you talk to Dad much?"
Tyson's smile faded. "Not much. Daddy is busy. He is worried about the war."
"What do you mean?"
Tyson sighed. He stuck the sword blade out the window, where it made a cloud of boiling bubbles. When Tyson brought it back in, the metal was cool. "Old sea spirits making trouble. Aigaios. Oceanus. Those guys."
I sort of knew what he was talking about. He meant the immortals who ruled the oceans back in the days of the Titans. Before the Olympians took over. The fact that they were back now, with the Titan Lord Kronos and his allies gaining strength, was not good.
"Is there anything I can do?" I asked.
Tyson shook his head sadly. "We are arming the mermaids. They need a thousand more swords by tomorrow." He looked at his sword blade and sighed. "Old spirits are protecting the bad boat."
"The Princess Andromeda?" I said. "Luke's boat?"
"Yes. They make it hard to find. Protect it from Daddy's storms. Otherwise he would smash it."
"Smashing it would be good."
Tyson perked up, as if he'd just had another thought. "Annabeth! Is she there?"
"Oh, well…" My heart felt like a bowling ball. Tyson thought Annabeth was just about the coolest thing since peanut butter (and he seriously loved peanut butter). I didn't have the heart to tell him she was missing. He'd start crying so bad he'd probably put out his fires. "Well, no… she's not here right now."
"Tell her hello!" He beamed. "Hello to Annabeth!"
"Okay." I fought back a lump in my throat. "I'll do that."
"And, Percy, don't worry about the bad boat. It is going away."
"What do you mean?"
"Panama Canal! Very far away."
I frowned. Why would Luke take his demon-infested cruise ship all the way down there? The last time we'd seen him, he'd been cruising along the East Coast, recruiting half-bloods and training his monstrous army.
"All right," I said, not feeling reassured. "That's… good. I guess."
In the forges, a deep voice bellowed something I couldn't make out. Tyson flinched. "Got to get back to work! Boss will get mad. Good luck, Brother!"
"Okay, tell Dad—"
But before I could finish, the vision shimmered and faded. I was alone again in my cabin, feeling even lonelier than before.
I was pretty miserable at dinner that night.
I mean, the food was excellent as usual. You can't go wrong with barbecue, pizza, and never-empty soda goblets. The torches and braziers kept the outdoor pavilion warm, but we all had to sit with our cabin mates, which meant I was alone at the Poseidon table. Thalia sat alone at the Zeus table, but we couldn't sit together. Camp rules. At least the Hephaestus, Ares, and Hermes cabins had a few people each. Nico sat with the Stoll brothers, since new campers always got stuck in the Hermes cabin if their Olympian parent was unknown. The Stoll brothers seemed to be trying to convince Nico that poker was a much better game than Mythomagic. I hoped Nico didn't have any money to lose.
The only table that really seemed to be having a good time was the Artemis table. The Hunters drank and ate and laughed like one big happy family. Zoe sat at the head like she was the mama. She didn't laugh as much as the others, but she did smile from time to time. Her silver lieutenant's band glittered in the dark braids of her hair. I thought she looked a lot nicer when she smiled. Bianca di Angelo seemed to be having a great time. She was trying to learn how to arm wrestle from the big girl who'd picked a fight with the Ares kid on the basketball court. The bigger girl was beating her every time, but Bianca didn't seem to mind.
When we'd finished eating, Chiron made the customary toast to the gods and formally welcomed the Hunters of Artemis. The clapping was pretty halfhearted. Then he announced the "good will" capture-the-flag game for tomorrow night, which got a lot better reception.
Afterward, we all trailed back to our cabins for an early, winter lights out. I was exhausted, which meant I fell asleep easily. That was the good part. The bad part was, I had a nightmare, and even by my standards it was a whopper.
Annabeth was on a dark hillside, shrouded in fog. It almost seemed like the Underworld, because I immediately felt claustrophobic and I couldn't see the sky above—just a close, heavy darkness, as if I were in a cave.
Annabeth struggled up the hill. Old broken Greek columns of black marble were scattered around, as though something had blasted a huge building to rums.
"Thorn!" Annabeth cried. "Where are you? Why did you bring me here?" She scrambled over a section of broken wall and came to the crest of the hill.
There was Luke. And he was in pain.
He was crumpled on the rocky ground, trying to rise. The blackness seemed to be thicker around him, fog swirling hungrily. His clothes were in tatters and his face was scratched and drenched with sweat,
"Annabeth!" he called. "Help me! Please!"
She ran forward.
I tried to cry out: He's a traitor! Don't trust him!
But my voice didn't work in the dream.
Annabeth had tears in her eyes. She reached down like she wanted to touch Luke's face, but at the last second she hesitated.
"What happened?" she asked.
"They left me here," Luke groaned. "Please. It's killing me."
I couldn't see what was wrong with him. He seemed to be struggling against some invisible curse, as though the fog were squeezing him to death.
"Why should I trust you?" Annabeth asked. Her voice was filled with hurt.
"You shouldn't," Luke said. "I've been terrible to you. But if you don't help me, I'll die."
Let him die, I wanted to scream. Luke had tried to kill us in cold blood too many times. He didn't deserve anything from Annabeth.
Then the darkness above Luke began to crumble, like a cavern roof in an earthquake. Huge chunks of black rock began falling. Annabeth rushed in just as a crack appeared, and the whole ceiling dropped. She held it somehow—tons of rock. She kept it from collapsing on her and Luke just with her own strength. It was impossible. She shouldn't have been able to do that.
Luke rolled free, gasping. "Thanks," he managed.
"Help me hold it," Annabeth groaned.
Luke caught his breath. His face was covered in grime and sweat. He rose unsteadily.
"I knew I could count on you." He began to walk away as the trembling blackness threatened to crush Annabeth.
"HELP ME!" she pleaded,
"Oh, don't worry," Luke said. "Your help is on the way. It's all part of the plan. In the meantime, try not to die."
The ceiling of darkness began to crumble again, pushing Annabeth against the ground.
I sat bolt upright in bed, clawing at the sheets. There was no sound in my cabin except the gurgle of the saltwater spring. The clock on my nightstand read just after midnight.
Only a dream, but I was sure of two things: Annabeth was in terrible danger. And Luke was responsible.
AN OLD DEAD FRIEND COMES TO VISIT
The next morning after breakfast, I told Grover about my dream. We sat in the meadow watching the satyrs chase the wood nymphs through the snow. The nymphs had promised to kiss the satyrs if they got caught, but they hardly ever did. Usually the nymph would let the satyr get up a full head of steam, then she'd turn into a snow-covered tree and the poor satyr would slam into it headfirst and get a pile of snow dumped on him.
When I told Grover my nightmare, he started twirling his finger in his shaggy leg fur.
"A cave ceiling collapsed on her?" he asked.
"Yeah. What the heck does that mean?"
Grover shook his head. "I don't know. But after what Zoe dreamed—"
"Whoa. What do you mean? Zoe had a dream like that?"
"I… I don't know, exactly. About three in the morning she came to the Big House and demanded to talk to Chiron. She looked really panicked."
"Wait, how do you know this?"
Grover blushed. "I was sort of camped outside the Artemis cabin."
"Just to be, you know, near them."
"You're a stalker with hooves."
"I am not! Anyway, I followed her to the Big House and hid in a bush and watched the whole thing. She got real upset when Argus wouldn't let her in. It was kind of a dangerous scene.
I tried to imagine that. Argus was the head of security for camp—a big blond dude with eyes all over his body. He rarely showed himself unless something serious was going on. I wouldn't want to place bets on a fight between him and Zoe Nightshade.
"What did she say?" I asked.
Grover grimaced. "Well, she starts talking really old-fashioned when she gets upset, so it was kind of hard to understand. But something about Artemis being in trouble and needing the Hunters. And then she called Argus a boil-brained lout… I think that's a bad thing. And then he called her—"
"Whoa, wait. How could Artemis be in trouble?"
"I… well, finally Chiron came out in his pajamas and his horse tail in curlers and—"
"He wears curlers in his tail?"
Grover covered his mouth.
"Sorry," I said. "Go on."
"Well, Zoe said she needed permission to leave camp immediately. Chiron refused. He reminded Zoe that the Hunters were supposed to stay here until they received orders from Artemis. And she said…" Grover gulped. "She said 'How are we to get orders from Artemis if Artemis is lost?'"
"What do you mean lost? Like she needs directions?"
"No. I think she meant gone. Taken. Kidnapped."
"Kidnapped?" I tried to get my mind around that idea. "How would you kidnap an immortal goddess? Is that even possible?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, it happened to Persephone."
"But she was like, the goddess of flowers."
Grover looked offended. "Springtime."
"Whatever. Artemis is a lot more powerful than that. Who could kidnap her? And why?"
Grover shook his head miserably. "I don't know. Kronos?"
"He can't be that powerful already. Can he?"
The last time we'd seen Kronos, he'd been in tiny pieces. Well… we hadn't actually seen him. Thousands of years ago, after the big Titan—God war, the gods had sliced him to bits with his own scythe and scattered his remains in Tartarus, which is like the gods' bottomless recycling bin for their enemies. Two summers ago, Kronos had tricked us to the very edge of the pit and almost pulled us in. Then last summer, on board Luke's demon cruise ship, we'd seen a golden coffin, where Luke claimed he was summoning the Titan Lord out of the abyss, bit by bit, every time someone new joined their cause. Kronos could influence people with dreams and trick them, but I didn't see how he could physically overcome Artemis if he was still like a pile of evil bark mulch.
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