(6) Percy is Offered a Quest
The next morning, Chiron told me to keep an eye on Percy.
“I fear he will be apart of something bigger than anything we have seen in a long time.” He had explained to me.
I knew Poseidon claiming him and the stolen item weren’t coincidences. And what Chiron told me this morning. I was distracted by those thoughts, and even more distracted about the hellhound. Everybody talked about it, but never to Percy’s face. The attack had scared everybody. It sent two messages: one, that Percy was the son of the Sea God; and two, monsters would stop at nothing to kill him. They could even invade camp, which had always been considered safe. The other campers steered clear of Percy as much as possible.
I taught Percy Greek in the mornings, to keep an eye on him like Chiron told me to, but I was lost in my thoughts. I came up with scenarios in my head on who could’ve betrayed the camp and sent the hellhound, but Percy’s voice kept garring me out of my thoughts.
That night I dreamt that I was caught in a storm, unable to get out. I saw a figure standing in the distance and started towards it.
This is only a dream, I reminded myself. There’s no need to panic.
As I drew nearer to the figure, I realized it was Luke, but he looked like he was sleeping while standing up. All his features were relaxed and he looked peaceful. I reached up and touched his face. When my hand made contact with him, his eyes flew open and he grabbed my hand. I screamed.
His eyes were golden instead of blue and they bored into my grey ones. Luke let go of me, and the ground opened, and I was swallowed whole.
I woke up, sure I was falling. I was still in bed in cabin six. My body told me it was morning, but it was dark outside, and thunder rolled across the hills. A storm was brewing. I hadn’t dreamed that.
Someone was shaking my arm. I blinked and looked to see who it was. It was one of my siblings, Dina Al-Najim. She was wearing an emerald green hijab that complimented her dark complexion extremely well.
“Hey. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to wake you, but can we talk?”
I nodded, too tired to talk. After I got dressed we sat on the steps of the Athena cabin.
“Chiron and Mr D wants to see Percy.”
“I wasn’t told much, but I think its about his quest.”
What I wanted to say is “Why was Percy getting a quest? He hasn’t even been trained properly. I should be the one getting a quest. I’m way more qualified than him. I’ve been training since I was seven!”
But I remember Chiron’s request and I said, “I’m going on the quest.”
“I don’t think thats a good idea, Annabeth.”
I looked at her confused.
“Percy’s a Poseidon kid. You’re an Athena child. Poseidon and Athena don’t mix very well.”
“How would you know?”
Dina sighed. “Athena and Poseidon have a huge rival. You remember Athens?”
“Dina, I’ve been waiting five years to go on a quest. To get out into the real world and be able to kick some monster butt. I want to know if I’ll be good enough.”
“Dina,” I interrupted her. “I’m sorry. Right now, I don’t really care for Moms old feud. I need to go on this quest.”
I sighed and looked around at camp. When I went on my quest, would I miss this place? Then I looked back at Dina, who was surveying the sky. Would I miss my siblings too?
“Woah. What is that?”
The storm was bigger than average and seemed unnatural. Maybe Zeus was mad?
At the volleyball pit, the kids from Apollo’s cabin were playing a morning game against the satyrs. Dionysus’s twins were walking around in the strawberry fields, making the plants grow. Everybody was going about their normal business, but they looked tense. They kept their eyes on the storm.
“I know you want to go on this quest but please, think about it.”
I buried my head into my hands.
“Well, I’ll see you later I guess.” Dina fixed her hijab and gave me a small smile before giving one last look at the sky, then walking back into our cabin.
I headed towards the Big House where I was met on the porch by Dionysus, who sat the pinochle table in his tiger-striped Hawaiian shirt with his Diet Coke, just like any other day. Chiron sat across the table in his fake wheelchair. They were playing against invisible opponents - two set of cards hovering in the air.
“I’m going on the quest and I don’t care what you say.”
To my surprise, Chiron smiled. Mr. D ignored me.
“I was hoping you’d say that. I think Percy will need all the help he can get.”
“Put on your cap Annabell and you can listen to our conversation. I have a feeling the boy won’t say much when you’re around.” Mr. D said. That was one of the most smartest things I’ve heard him say, but don’t tell Mr. D that.
A few minutes later I was invisible, watching Percy and Grover walk up to the front porch of the Big House.
“Well, well,” Mr D said without looking up. “Our little celebrity.”
“Come closer,” Mr D said. “And don’t expect me to kowtow to you, mortal, just because old Barnacle-Beard is your father.”
A net of lightning flashed across the clouds. Thunder shook the windows of the house.
“Blah, blah, blah,” Dionysus said. Chiron feigned interest in his pinochle cards. Grover cowered by the railing, his hooves clopping back and forth.
“If I had my way,” Dionysus said, “I would cause your molecules to erupt in flames. We’d sweep up the ashes and be done with a lot of trouble. But Chiron seems to feel this would be against my mission at this cursed camp: to keep you little brats safe from harm.”
“Spontaneous combustion is a form of harm, Mr D,” Chiron put in.
“Nonsense,” Dionysus said, and I saw Percy gulp. “Boy wouldn’t feel a thing. Nevertheless, I’ve agreed to restrain myself. I’m thinking of turning you into a dolphin instead, sending you back to your father.”
“Mr D –” Chiron warned.
“Oh, all right,” Dionysus relented. “There’s one more option. But it’s deadly foolishness.” Dionysus rose, and the invisible players’ cards dropped to the table. “I’m off to Olympus for the emergency meeting. If the boy is still here when I get back, I’ll turn him into an Atlantic bottlenose. Do you understand? And Perseus Jackson, if you’re at all smart, you’ll see that’s a much more sensible choice than what Chiron feels you must do.”
Dionysus picked up a playing card, twisted it, and it became a plastic rectangle. A credit card? No. A security pass. He snapped his fingers. The air seemed to fold and bend around him. He became a holograph, then a wind, then he was gone, leaving only the smell of fresh-pressed grapes lingering behind.
Chiron smiled at Percy, but he looked tired and strained. “Sit, Percy, please. And Grover.” They did. Chiron laid his cards on the table, a winning hand he hadn’t got to use.
“Tell me, Percy,” he said. “What did you make of the hellhound?”
Percy shuddered and hesitated before he responded.
“It scared me,” he said. “If you hadn’t shot it, I’d be dead.”
“You’ll meet worse, Percy. Far worse, before you’re done.”
“Done... with what?”
“Your quest, of course. Will you accept it?”
Percy glanced at Grover, who was crossing his fingers.
“Um, sir,” He said, “you haven’t told me what it is yet.”
Chiron grimaced. “Well, that’s the hard part, the details.”
Thunder rumbled across the valley. The storm clouds had now reached the edge of the beach. As far as I could see, the sky and the sea were boiling together.
“Poseidon and Zeus,” Percy said. “They’re fighting over something valuable... something that was stolen, aren’t they?”
Chiron and Grover exchanged looks.
Chiron sat forward in his wheelchair. “How did you know that?”
Heat rose to Percy’s cheeks. “The weather since Christmas has been weird, like the sea and the sky are fighting. Then I talked to Annabeth, and she’d overheard something about a theft. And... I’ve also been having these dreams.”
“I knew it,” Grover said.
“Hush, satyr,” Chiron ordered.
“But it is his quest!” Grover’s eyes were bright with excitement. “It must be!”
“Only the Oracle can determine.” Chiron stroked his bristly beard. “Nevertheless, Percy, you are correct. Your father and Zeus are having their worst quarrel in centuries. They are fighting over something valuable that was stolen. To be precise: a lightning bolt.”
Percy laughed nervously. “A what?”
“Do not take this lightly,” Chiron warned. “I’m not talking about some tinfoil-covered zigzag you’d see in a second-grade play. I’m talking about a two-foot-long cylinder of high-grade celestial bronze, capped on both ends with god-level explosives.”
I frowned. How can someone lose something as powerful as that?
“Zeus’s master bolt,” Chiron said, getting worked up now. “The symbol of his power, from which all other lightning bolts are patterned. The first weapon made by the Cyclopes for the war against the Titans, the bolt that sheered the top off Mount Etna and hurled Kronos from his throne; the master bolt, which packs enough power to make mortal hydrogen bombs look like firecrackers.”
“And it’s missing?”
Stolen,” Chiron said.
“By whom,” Chiron corrected. “By you.”
My mouth fell open. The twists and turns this quest is taking.
“At least” – Chiron held up a hand – “that’s what Zeus thinks. During the winter solstice, at the last council of the gods, Zeus and Poseidon had an argument. The usual nonsense: “Mother Rhea always liked you best,” “Air disasters are more spectacular than sea disasters,” et cetera. Afterwards, Zeus realized his master bolt was missing, taken from the throne room under his very nose. He immediately blamed Poseidon. Now a god cannot usurp another god’s symbol of power directly – that is forbidden by the most ancient of divine laws. But Zeus believes your father convinced a human hero to take it.”
“But I didn’t –”
“Patience and listen, child,” Chiron said. “Zeus has good reason to be suspicious. The forges of the Cyclopes are under the ocean, which gives Poseidon some influence over the makers of his brother’s lightning. Zeus believes Poseidon has taken the master bolt, and is now secretly having the Cyclopes build an arsenal of illegal copies, which might be used to topple Zeus from his throne. The only thing Zeus wasn’t sure about was which hero Poseidon used to steal the bolt. Now Poseidon has openly claimed you as his son. You were in New York over the winter holidays. You could easily have snuck into Olympus. Zeus believes he has found his thief.”
“But I’ve never even been to Olympus! Zeus is crazy!”
I glanced nervously at the sky. I waited for Percy to get blasted where he sat, but then I noticed the sky.
The clouds weren’t parting around us like they usually would. They were rolling straight over our valley, sealing us in like a coffin lid.
“Er, Percy...?” Grover said. “We don’t use the c-word to describe the Lord of the Sky.”
“Perhaps paranoid,” Chiron suggested. “Then again, Poseidon has tried to unseat Zeus before. I believe that was question thirty-eight on your final exam...”
He looked at Percy as if he expected him to remember question thirty-eight.
I bit back a laugh. How could anyone accuse him of stealing a god’s weapon? He was scrawny, and he looked scared. How was he a threat? But I learned long ago not to underestimate anything. He has yet to prove me wrong.
Chiron was still waiting for an answer.
“Something about a golden net?” Percy guessed. “Poseidon and Hera and a few other gods... they, like, trapped Zeus and wouldn’t let him out until he promised to be a better ruler, right?”
“Correct,” Chiron said. “And Zeus has never trusted Poseidon since. Of course, Poseidon denies stealing the master bolt. He took great offense at the accusation. The two have been arguing back and forth for months, threatening war. And now, you’ve come along – the proverbial last straw.”
“But I’m just a kid!”
“Percy,” Grover cut in, “if you were Zeus, and you already thought your brother was plotting to overthrow you, then your brother suddenly admitted he had broken the sacred oath he took after World War II, that he’s fathered a new mortal hero who might be used as a weapon against you... Wouldn’t that put a twist in your toga?”
“But I didn’t do anything. Poseidon – my dad – he didn’t really have this master bolt stolen, did he?”
Chiron sighed. “Most thinking observers would agree that thievery is not Poseidon’s style. But the sea god is too proud to try convincing Zeus of that. Zeus has demanded that Poseidon return the bolt by the summer solstice. That’s June twenty-first, ten days from now. Poseidon wants an apology for being called a thief by the same date. I hoped that diplomacy might prevail, that Hera or Demeter or Hestia would make the two brothers see sense. But your arrival has inflamed Zeus’s temper. Now neither god will back down. Unless someone intervenes, unless the master bolt is found and returned to Zeus before the solstice, there will be war. And do you know what a full-fledged war would look like, Percy?”
“Bad?” He guessed.
“Imagine the world in chaos. Nature at war with itself. Olympians forced to choose sides between Zeus and Poseidon. Destruction. Carnage. Millions dead. Western civilization turned into a battleground so big it will make the Trojan War look like a water-balloon fight.”
“Bad,” Percy repeated.
“And you, Percy Jackson, would be the first to feel Zeus’s wrath.”
It started to rain. My mouth fell open. Volleyball players stopped their game and stared in stunned silence at the sky. Had Percy brought this storm to Half-Blood Hill? Was Zeus punishing the whole camp because of him?
“So I have to find the stupid bolt,” he said angrily. “And return it to Zeus.”
“What better peace offering,” Chiron said, “than to have the son of Poseidon return Zeus’s property?”
“If Poseidon doesn’t have it, where is the thing?”
“I believe I know.” Chiron’s expression was grim. “Part of a prophecy I had years ago... well, some of the lines make sense to me, now. But before I can say more, you must officially take up the quest. You must seek the counsel of the Oracle.”
“Why can’t you tell me where the bolt is beforehand?”
“Because if I did, you would be too afraid to accept the challenge.”
Percy swallowed. “Good reason.”
“You agree then?”
Percy looked at Grover, who nodded encouragingly.
“All right,” Percy decided. “It’s better than being turned into a dolphin.”
“Then it’s time you consulted the Oracle,” Chiron said. “Go upstairs, Percy Jackson, to the attic. When you come back down, assuming you’re still sane, we will talk more.”
* * *
“Well?” Chiron asked Percy, who slumped into a chair at the pinochle table.
“She said I would retrieve what was stolen.”
She. The Oracle was a she. I didn’t know that.
Grover sat forward, chewing excitedly on the remains of a Diet Coke can. “That’s great!”
“What did the Oracle say exactly?” Chiron pressed. “This is important.”
“She... she said I would go west and face a god who had turned. I would retrieve what was stolen and see it safely returned.”
Percy hesitated. I studied his features. Its fairly easy to tell when someones lying if you know what to look for. Percy was nervously moving his feet around while keeping the rest of his body still. He wasn’t looking at Chiron very much, and he was rolling his lips back into his mouth. Percy was hiding something, I decided.
Chiron didn’t look satisfied. “Anything else?”
“No,” he lied. “That’s about it.”
I shook my head. Percy is a terrible liar.
Chiron studied his face. “Very well, Percy. But know this: the Oracle’s words often have double meanings. Don’t dwell on them too much. The truth is not always clear until events come to pass.”
“Okay,” Percy said. “So where do I go? Who’s this god in the west?”
“Ah, think, Percy,” Chiron said. “If Zeus and Poseidon weaken each other in a war, who stands to gain?”
“Somebody else who wants to take over?” He guessed.
“Yes, quite. Someone who harbours a grudge, who has been unhappy with his lot since the world was divided aeons ago, whose kingdom would grow powerful with the deaths of millions. Someone who hates his brothers for forcing him into an oath to have no more children, an oath that both of them have now broken.”
The answer came to me immediately.
Chiron nodded. “The Lord of the Dead is the only possibility.”
A scrap of aluminium dribbled out of Grover’s mouth. “Whoa, wait. Wh-what?”
“A Fury came after Percy,” Chiron reminded him. “She watched the young man until she was sure of his identity, then tried to kill him. Furies obey only one lord: Hades.”
“Yes, but – but Hades hates all heroes,” Grover protested and I remembered satyrs hate underground. Especially Grover. “Especially if he has found out Percy is a son of Poseidon...”
“A hellhound got into the forest,” Chiron continued. “Those can only be summoned from the Fields of Punishment, and it had to be summoned by someone within the camp. Hades must have a spy here. He must suspect Poseidon will try to use Percy to clear his name. Hades would very much like to kill this young half-blood before he can take on the quest.”
“Great,” Percy muttered. “That’s two major gods who want to kill me.”
“But a quest to...” Grover swallowed. “I mean, couldn’t the master bolt be in some place like Maine? Maine’s very nice this time of year.”
“Hades sent a minion to steal the master bolt,” Chiron insisted. “He hid it in the Underworld, knowing full well that Zeus would blame Poseidon. I don’t pretend to understand the Lord of the Dead’s motives perfectly, or why he chose this time to start a war, but one thing is certain. Percy must go to the Underworld, find the master bolt, and reveal the truth.”
Grover was trembling. He’d started eating pinochle cards like potato crisps. The poor guy needed to complete a quest with Percy so he could get his searcher’s license.
“Look, if we know it’s Hades,” Percy told Chiron, “why can’t we just tell the other gods? Zeus or Poseidon could go down to the Underworld and bust some heads.”
“Suspecting and knowing are not the same,” Chiron said. “Besides, even if the other gods suspect Hades – and I imagine Poseidon does – they couldn’t retrieve the bolt themselves. Gods cannot cross each other’s territories except by invitation. That is another ancient rule. Heroes, on the other hand, have certain privileges. They can go anywhere, challenge anyone, as long as they’re bold enough and strong enough to do it. No god can be held responsible for a hero’s actions. Why do you think the gods always operate through humans?”
Realization dawned on Percy’s face. “You’re saying I’m being used.”
“I’m saying it’s no accident Poseidon has claimed you now. It’s a very risky gamble, but he’s in a desperate situation. He needs you.”
Percy went rigid.
I could practically see his emotions rolling around inside of him. His father abandoned him for his entire life and when he finally payed Percy attention, it was for his own personal gain.
“You’ve known I was Poseidon’s son all along, haven’t you?”
“I had my suspicions. As I said... I’ve spoken to the Oracle, too.”
There was a lot he wasn’t telling them about his prophecy, but since I’m technically not supposed to be here, I didn’t say anything.
“So let me get this straight,” Percy said. “I’m supposed to go to the Underworld and confront the Lord of the Dead.”
“Check,” Chiron said.
“Find the most powerful weapon in the universe.”
“And get it back to Olympus before the summer solstice, in ten days.”
“That’s about right.”
Percy looked at Grover, who gulped down the ace of hearts. “Did I mention that Maine is very nice this time of year?” he asked weakly.
“You don’t have to go,” he told him. “I can’t ask that of you.”
“Oh...” He shifted his hooves. “No... it’s just that satyrs and underground places... well...” He took a deep breath, then stood, brushing the shredded cards and aluminium bits off his T-shirt. “You saved my life, Percy. If... if you’re serious about wanting me along, I won’t let you down.”
I could see the relief on Percy’s face.
“All the way, G-man.” He turned to Chiron. “So where do we go? The Oracle just said to go west.”
“The entrance to the Underworld is always in the west. It moves from age to age, just like Olympus. Right now, of course, it’s in America.”
Chiron looked surprised. “I thought that would be obvious enough. The entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles.”
“Oh,” Percy said. “Naturally. So we just get on a plane –”
“No!” Grover shrieked. “Percy, what are you thinking? Have you ever been on a plane in your life?”
He shook my head, looking embarrassed.
“Percy, think,” Chiron said. “You are the son of the Sea God. Your father’s bitterest rival is Zeus, Lord of the Sky. Your mother knew better than to trust you in an aeroplane. You would be in Zeus’s domain. You would never come down again alive.”
Overhead, lightning crackled. Thunder boomed.
“Okay,” Percy said, trying not to look at the storm. “So, I’ll travel overland.”
“That’s right,” Chiron said. “Two companions may accompany you. Grover is one. The other has already volunteered, if you will accept her help.”
“Gee,” Percy said, feigning surprise, and I wanted to bust his kneecaps. “Who else would be stupid enough to volunteer for a quest like this?”
The air shimmered around me as I stuffed my Yankees cap into my back pocket.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for a quest, Seaweed Brain,” I said. “Athena is no fan of Poseidon, but if you’re going to save the world, I’m the best person to keep you from messing up.”
“If you do say so yourself,” Percy said. “I suppose you have a plan, Wise Girl?”
Heat rose in my cheeks.
“Do you want my help or not?”
I watched him as he weighed his options in his head.
“A trio,” Percy decided. “That’ll work.”
“Excellent,” Chiron said. “This afternoon, we can take you as far as the bus terminal in Manhattan. After that, you are on your own.” Lightning flashed. Rain poured down on the meadows that were never supposed to have violent weather.
“No time to waste,” Chiron said. “I think you should all get packing.”
A/N: do y’all like Dina? She’s Muslim if you didn’t know. I’m hoping to add more representation of POC and LGBTQ+ people, but since their quest is about to start I kinda missed the opportunity.