(17) Percy Settles His Tab
It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality. Chiron had told me that long ago.
According to the L.A. news, the explosion at the Santa Monica beach had been caused when a crazy kidnapper fired a shotgun at a police car. He accidentally hit a gas main that had ruptured during the earthquake.
This crazy kidnapper (a.k.a. Ares) was the same man who had abducted me and two other adolescents in New York and brought us across the country on a ten-day odyssey of terror. Poor little Percy Jackson wasn’t an international criminal, after all. He’d caused a commotion on that Greyhound bus in New Jersey trying to get away from his captor (and afterwards, witnesses would even swear they had seen the leather-clad man on the bus – “Why didn’t I remember him before?“) The crazy man had caused the explosion in the St Louis Arch. After all, no kid could’ve done that. A concerned waitress in Denver had seen the man threatening his abductees outside her diner, gotten a friend to take a photo and notified the police. Finally, brave Percy Jackson (I was beginning to hate this kid) had stolen a gun from his captor in Los Angeles and battled him shotgun-to rifle on the beach. Police had arrived just in time. But in the spectacular explosion, five police cars had been destroyed and the captor had fled. No fatalities had occurred. Percy Jackson and his two friends were safely in police custody.
The reporters fed us this whole story. We just nodded and acted tearful and exhausted (which wasn’t hard), and played victimized kids for the cameras.
“All I want,” Percy said, choking back fake tears, “is to see my loving stepfather again. Every time I saw him on TV, calling me a delinquent punk, I knew... somehow... we would be okay. And I know he’ll want to reward each and every person in this beautiful city of Los Angeles with a free major appliance from his store. Here’s the phone number.”
The police and reporters were so moved that they passed around the hat and raised money for three tickets on the next plane to New York.
I knew there was no choice but to fly. I hoped Zeus would cut us some slack, considering the circumstances. But it was still hard to force Percy on board the flight.
Takeoff was a nightmare. Percy acted like every spot of turbulence was scarier than a Greek monster. He didn’t unclench his hands from the armrests until we touched down safely at LaGuardia. The local press was waiting for us outside security, but we managed to evade them thanks to me, luring them away in my invisible Yankees cap, shouting, “They’re over by the frozen yogurt! Come on!“, then rejoined them at baggage claim. We split up at the taxi stand.
Percy told Grover and I to get back to Half-Blood Hill and let Chiron know what had happened. We protested, and it was hard to let us go after all we’d been through, but I knew Percy wouldn’t change his mind about doing the last part of the quest by himself.
We watched as Percy hopped in a taxi and waved him goodbye as he drove into Manhattan.
“Fine! I’ll go talk to Chiron while you follow Percy!”
I stared at him. “How’d you know I was going to ask you that?”
“I’m a saytr! I can read your emotions. Also, I was going to suggest it anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! I don’t want him to get smited either! Now get going!”
“Eh, Zeus smiting Percy might solve our problems.”
Grover punched me.
Thirty minutes later, I walked into the lobby of the Empire State Building. I probably would have looked like a homeless kid, with my tattered clothes and my scraped-up face, except for the fact that I was invisible.
“Oh, I think he’ll make an exception.” A voice said.
I turned to look as Percy slipped off his backpack and unzipped the top. The guard looked inside at the metal cylinder, not getting what it was for a few seconds. Then his face went pale.
“Yes, it is,” Percy promised. “You want me to take it out and –”
“No! No!” He scrambled out of his seat, fumbled around his desk for a key card, then handed it to Percy.
“Insert this in the security slot. Make sure nobody else is in the elevator with you.”
Percy smiled and walked into the elevator. I quickly followed.
As soon as the elevator doors closed, Percy slipped the key into the slot. The card disappeared and a new button appeared on the console, a red one that said 600.
Percy pressed it and waited, and waited.
Muzak played. “Raindrops keep falling on my head...”
Finally, ding. The doors slid open.
Percy stepped out and gasped. We were standing on a narrow stone walkway in the middle of the air. Below us was Manhattan, from the height of an aeroplane. In front of us, white marble steps wound up the spine of a cloud, into the sky. From the top of the clouds rose the decapitated peak of a mountain, its summit covered with snow. Clinging to the mountainside were dozens of multileveled palaces – a city of mansions – all with white-columned porticos, gilded terraces and bronze braziers glowing with a thousand fires. Roads wound crazily up to the peak, where the largest palace gleamed against the snow. Precariously perched gardens bloomed with olive trees and rosebushes. I could make out an open-air market filled with colorful tents, a stone amphitheater built on one side of the mountain, a hippodrome and a coliseum on the other. It was an Ancient Greek city, except it wasn’t in ruins. It was new, and clean, and colorful, the way Athens must’ve looked twenty-five hundred years ago.
We passed some giggling wood nymphs who threw olives at Percy from their garden. Hawkers in the market offered to sell him ambrosia-on-a-stick, and a new shield, and a genuine glitter-weave replica of the Golden Fleece, as seen on Hephaestus-TV The nine muses were tuning their instruments for a concert in the park while a small crowd gathered – satyrs and naiads and a bunch of good-looking teenagers who might’ve been minor gods and goddesses. Nobody seemed worried about an impending civil war. In fact, everybody seemed in a festive mood. Several of them turned to watch Percy pass, and whispered to themselves.
We climbed the main road, towards the big palace at the peak. It was a reverse copy of the palace in the Underworld. There, everything had been black and bronze. Here, everything glittered white and silver. I realized Hades must’ve built his palace to resemble this one. He wasn’t welcomed in Olympus except on winter solstice, so he’d built his own Olympus underground. Despite my bad experiences with him, I felt a little sorry for the guy. To be banished from this place seemed really unfair. It would make anybody bitter.
Steps led up to a central courtyard. Past that, the throne room.
Room really isn’t the right word. The place made Grand Central Station look like a broom closet. Massive columns rose to a domed ceiling, which was gilded with moving constellations.
Twelve thrones, built for beings the size of Hades, were arranged in an inverted U, just like the cabins at Camp Half-Blood. An enormous fire crackled in the central hearth pit. The thrones were empty except for two at the end: the head throne on the right, and the one to its immediate left. I didn’t have to be told who the two gods were that were sitting there, waiting for Percy to approach.
Percy came towards them, his legs trembling. The gods were in giant human form, as Hades had been, but I could barely look at them without feeling a tingle, as if my body were starting to burn. Zeus, the Lord of the Gods, wore a dark blue, pinstriped suit. He sat on a simple throne of solid platinum. He had a well-trimmed beard, marbled grey and black like a storm cloud. His face was proud and handsome and grim, his eyes rainy grey. As I got nearer to him, the air crackled and smelled of ozone. The god sitting next to him was his brother, without a doubt, but he was dressed very differently. He reminded me of a beachcomber from Key West. He wore leather sandals, khaki Bermuda shorts, and a Tommy Bahama shirt with coconuts and parrots all over it. His skin was deeply tanned, his hands scarred like an old-time fisherman’s. His hair was black. But his eyes, I realized, were sea-green like Percy’s, were surrounded by sun-crinkles that told me he smiled a lot, too.
His throne was a deep-sea fisherman’s chair. It was the simple swiveling kind, with a black leather seat and a built-in holster for a fishing pole. Instead of a pole, the holster held a bronze trident, flickering with green light around the tips.
The gods weren’t moving or speaking, but there was tension in the air, as if they’d just finished an argument. Percy approached the fisherman’s throne and knelt at his feet.
I knelt in front of them both, knowing they wouldn’t be fooled by my Yankees cap.
I could feel Zeus’s eyes burning into me. I dared not look up. My heart was racing. I could feel the energy emanating from the two gods. If Percy said the wrong thing, I had no doubt they could blast him, and me, into dust.
To my left, Zeus spoke. “Should you not address the master of this house first, boy?”
Percy kept his head down, and waited.
“Peace, brother,” Poseidon finally said. “The boy defers to his father. This is only right.”
“You still claim him then?” Zeus asked menacingly. “You claim this child whom you sired against our sacred oath?”
“I have admitted my wrongdoing,” Poseidon said. “Now I would hear him speak.”
Percy froze and anger starting swelling up inside of me.
Was that all he was? A wrongdoing? The result of a god’s mistake? Percy was way more than that! I mean, yeah he was an idiot. But he could be useful! Sometimes.
“I have spared him once already,” Zeus grumbled. “Daring to fly through my domain... pah! I should have blasted him out of the sky for his impudence.”
“And risk destroying your own master bolt?” Poseidon asked calmly. “Let us hear him out, brother.”
Zeus grumbled some more. “I shall listen,” he decided. “Then I shall make up my mind whether or not to cast this boy down from Olympus.”
“Perseus,” Poseidon said. “Look at me.” Percy did, and I wasn’t sure what Percy saw in Poseidon’s face, but I saw no clear sign of love or approval. No encouragement. It was like looking at the ocean: some days, you could tell what mood it was in. Most days, though, it was unreadable, mysterious.
I got the feeling Poseidon really didn’t know what to think of Percy. He didn’t know whether he was happy to have him as a son or not.
“Address Lord Zeus, boy,” Poseidon told him. “Tell him your story.”
So Percy told Zeus everything, just as it had happened. He took out the metal cylinder, which began sparking in the Sky Gods presence, and laid it at his feet.
There was a long silence, broken only by the crackle of the hearth fire.
Zeus opened his palm. The lightning bolt flew into it. As he closed his fist, the metallic points flared with electricity, until he was holding what looked more like the classic thunderbolt, a five meter javelin of arcing, hissing energy that made the hairs on my scalp rise.
“I sense the boy tells the truth,” Zeus muttered. “But that Ares would do such a thing... it is most unlike him.”
“He is proud and impulsive,” Poseidon said. “It runs in the family.”
“Lord?” Percy asked.
They both said, “Yes?”
I held back a laugh.
“Ares didn’t act alone. Someone else – something else – came up with the idea.”
Percy described his dreams, and the feeling he had on the beach, that momentary breath of evil that had seemed to stop the world and made Ares back off from killing him.
“In the dreams,” Percy said, “the voice told me to bring the bolt to the Underworld. Ares hinted that he’d been having dreams, too. I think he was being used, just as I was, to start a war.”
“You are accusing Hades, after all?” Zeus asked.
“No,” Percy said. “I mean, Lord Zeus, I’ve been in the presence of Hades. This feeling on the beach was different. It was the same thing I felt when I got close to that pit. That was the entrance to Tartarus, wasn’t it? Something powerful and evil is stirring down there... something even older than the gods.”
Poseidon and Zeus looked at each other. They had a quick, intense discussion in Ancient Greek. I only caught a few words, one of them being father.
Poseidon made some kind of suggestion, but Zeus cut him off. Poseidon tried to argue. Zeus held up his hand angrily.
They couldn’t possibly mean...?
“We will speak of this no more,” Zeus said. “I must go personally to purify this thunderbolt in the waters of Lemnos, to remove the human taint from its metal.”
He rose and looked at Percy. His expression softened just a fraction of a degree. “You have done me a service, boy. Few heroes could have accomplished as much.”
“I had help, sir,” Percy said. “Grover Underwood and Annabeth Chase –”
“To show you my thanks, I shall spare your life. I do not trust you, Perseus Jackson. I do not like what your arrival means for the future of Olympus. But for the sake of peace in the family, I shall let you live.”
“Um... thank you, sir.”
“Do not presume to fly again. Do not let me find you here when I return. Otherwise you shall taste this bolt. And it shall be your last sensation.”
Thunder shook the palace. With a blinding flash of lightning, Zeus was gone. I suddenly felt like I was intruding in on a private matter.
Poseidon’s mouth began moving, but no sound came out. I realized he must’ve done something so only Percy could hear him. So I wouldn’t intrude on their conversation.
I walked out of the throne room and waited for Percy in the hallway.
A/N: i’m so sad this is going to be over next chapter. i’ve decided i’m going to write all the other PJO books in Annabeth’s perspective too so stay tuned!