You’ve attended quite a few different schools. What’s the hardest part about being the new kid?
Percy: Making your rep. I mean everybody wants to fit you into a box, right? Either you’re a geek or a jock or whatever. You’ve got to make it clear right away that you’re not somebody they can pick on, but you also can’t be a jerk about it. I’m probably not the best person to give advice, though. I can’t get through the year without getting kicked out or blowing something up.
If you had to trade Riptide for another magic item, whose item would you choose?
Percy: Hard one, because I’ve really got used to Riptide. I can’t imagine not having that sword. I guess it would be cool to have a set of armour that melted into my regular clothes. Wearing armour is a pain. It’s heavy. It’s hot. And it doesn’t exactly make a fashion statement, you know? So having clothes that morphed into armour would be really useful. I’m still not sure I’d trade my sword for that, though.
You’ve had a lot of close calls, but what’s been your scariest moment?
Percy: I’m going to have to say my first fight with the Minotaur, up on Half-Blood Hill, because I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I didn’t even know I was a demigod at that point. I thought I’d lost my mom forever, and I was stuck on a hill in a thunderstorm fighting this huge bull dude while Grover was passed out wailing, ‘Food!’ It was terrifying, man.
Any advice for kids who suspect they may be demigods, too?
Percy: Pray you are wrong. Seriously, this may sound fun to read about, but it is bad news. If you do think you’re a demigod, find a satyr fast. You can usually spot them at any school. They laugh weirdly and they eat anything. They might walk funnily because they’re trying to hide their hooves inside fake feet. Find your school satyr and get his help. You need to make it to Camp Half-Blood right away. But again, you do not want to be a demigod. Do not try this at home.
CLARISSE LA RUE,
Daughter of Ares
Who do you most want to pick a fight with at Camp Half-Blood?
Clarisse: Whoever gets in my face, loser. Oh, you mean specifically? So many choices. There’s this new guy in Apollo cabin, Michael Yew. I would love to break his bow over his head. He thinks Apollo is so much better than Ares just because they can use ranged weapons and stand far away from the battle like cowards. Give me a spear and shield any day. Some day, mark my words, I’m going to pulverize Michael Yew and his whole wimpy cabin.
Aside from your father, who do you think is the bravest god or goddess on the Olympian Council?
Clarisse: Well, nobody comes close to Ares, but I guess Lord Zeus is pretty brave. I mean he took on Typhon and fought Kronos. Of course, it’s easy to be brave when you’ve got an arsenal of super powerful lightning bolts. No disrespect intended.
Did you ever get revenge on Percy for soaking you with toilet water?
Clarisse: Oh, that little punk has been bragging again, huh? Don’t believe him. He exaggerated that whole thing. Believe me, revenge is coming. One of these days, he’s going to be sorry. Why am I waiting? Just strategy. Biding my time and waiting for the right moment to strike. I am not scared, okay? Anybody says different, I’ll rearrange their dental work.
One dragon can ruin your whole day.
Trust me, as a demigod I’ve had my share of bad experiences. I’ve been snapped at, clawed at, blowtorched and poisoned. I’ve fought single-headed dragons, double-headed, eight-headed, nine-headed and the kind with so many heads that if you stopped to count them you’d be pretty much dead.
But that time with the bronze dragon? I thought for sure my friends and I were going to end up as Kibbles ’n’ Dragon Bits.
The evening started simply enough.
It was the end of June. I’d come back from my most recent quest about two weeks before, and life at Camp Half-Blood was returning to normal. Satyrs were chasing the dryads. Monsters howled in the woods. The campers were playing pranks on one another and our camp director, Dionysus, was turning anyone who misbehaved into a shrub. Typical summer-camp stuff.
After dinner, all the campers were hanging out at the dining pavilion. We were all excited because that evening capture the flag was going to be totally vicious.
The night before, Hephaestus’s cabin had pulled off a huge upset. They’d captured the flag from Ares – with my help, thank you very much – which meant that the Ares cabin would be out for blood. Well… they’re always out for blood, but this night especially.
On the blue team were Hephaestus’s cabin, Apollo, Hermes and me – the only demigod in Poseidon’s cabin. The bad news was that for once Athena and Ares – both war god cabins – were against us on the red team, along with Aphrodite, Dionysus and Demeter. Athena’s cabin held the other flag and my friend Annabeth was their captain.
Annabeth is not somebody you want as an enemy.
Right before the game, she strolled up to me. ‘Hey, Seaweed Brain.’
‘Will you stop calling me that?’
She knows I hate that name, mostly because I never have a good comeback. She’s the daughter of Athena, which doesn’t give me a lot of ammunition. I mean, ‘Owl-head’ and ‘Wise Girl’ are kind of lame insults.
‘You know you love it.’ She bumped me with her shoulder, which I guess was supposed to be friendly, but she was wearing full Greek armour, so it kind of hurt. Her grey eyes sparkled under her helmet. Her blonde ponytail curled around one shoulder. It was hard for anyone to look cute in combat armour, but Annabeth pulled it off.
‘Tell you what.’ She lowered her voice. ‘We’re going to crush you tonight, but if you pick a safe position… like right flank, for instance… I’ll make sure you don’t get pulverized too much.’
‘Gee, thanks,’ I said, ‘but I’m playing to win.’
She smiled. ‘See you on the battlefield.’
She jogged back to her teammates, who all laughed and gave her high fives. I’d never seen her so happy, like the chance to beat me up was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Beckendorf walked up with his helmet under his arm. ‘She likes you, man.’
‘Sure,’ I muttered. ‘She likes me for target practice.’
‘Nah, they always do that. A girl starts trying to kill you, you know she’s into you.’
‘Makes a lot of sense.’
Beckendorf shrugged. ‘I know about these things. You ought to ask her to the fireworks.’
I couldn’t tell if he was serious. Beckendorf was lead counsellor for Hephaestus. He was this huge dude with a permanent scowl, muscles like a pro ballplayer, and hands calloused from working in the forges. He’d just turned eighteen and was on his way to NYU in the autumn. Since he was older, I usually listened to him about stuff, but the idea of asking Annabeth to the Fourth of July fireworks down at the beach – like, the biggest dating event of the summer – made my stomach do somersaults.
Then Silena Beauregard, the head counsellor for Aphrodite, passed by. Beckendorf had had a not-so-secret crush on her for three years. She had long black hair and big blue eyes, and when she walked the guys tended to watch. She said, ‘Good luck, Charlie.’ (Nobody ever calls Beckendorf by his first name.) She flashed him a brilliant smile and went to join Annabeth on the red team.
‘Uh…’ Beckendorf swallowed like he’d forgotten how to breathe.
I patted him on the shoulder. ‘Thanks for the advice, dude. Glad you’re so wise about girls and all. Come on. Let’s get to the woods.’
Naturally, Beckendorf and I took the most dangerous job.
While the Apollo cabin played defence with their bows, the Hermes cabin would charge up the middle of the woods to distract the enemy. Meanwhile, Beckendorf and I would scout around the left flank, locate the enemy’s flag, knock out the defenders and get the flag back to our side. Simple.
Why the left flank?
‘Because Annabeth wanted me to go right,’ I told Beckendorf, ‘which means she doesn’t want us to go left.’
Beckendorf nodded. ‘Let’s suit up.’
He’d been working on a secret weapon for the two of us – bronze chameleon armour, enchanted to blend into the background. If we stood in front of rocks, our breastplates, helms and shields turned grey. If we stood in front of bushes, the metal changed to a leafy green. It wasn’t true invisibility, but we’d have pretty good cover, at least from a distance.
‘This stuff took forever to forge,’ Beckendorf warned me. ‘Don’t mess it up!’
‘You got it, Captain.’
Beckendorf grunted. I could tell he liked being called Captain. The rest of the Hephaestus campers wished us well, and we sneaked off into the woods, immediately turning brown and green to match the trees.
We crossed the creek that served as the boundary between the teams. We heard fighting in the distance – swords clashing against shields. I glimpsed a flash of light from some magical weapon, but we saw no one.
‘No border guards?’ Beckendorf whispered. ‘Weird.’
‘Overconfident,’ I guessed. But I felt uneasy. Annabeth was a great strategist. It wasn’t like her to be sloppy about defence, even if her team did outnumber us.
We moved into enemy territory. I knew we had to hurry, because our team was playing a defensive game, and that couldn’t last forever. The Apollo kids would get over-run sooner or later. The Ares cabin wouldn’t be slowed down by a little thing like arrows.
We crept along the base of an oak tree. I almost jumped out of my skin when a girl’s face emerged from the trunk. ‘Shoo!’ she said, then faded back into the bark.
‘Dryads,’ Beckendorf grumbled. ‘So touchy.’
‘Am not!’ a muffled voice said from the tree.
We kept moving. It was hard to tell exactly where we were. Some landmarks stood out, like the creek and certain cliffs and some really old trees, but the woods tended to shift around. I guess the nature spirits got restless. Paths changed. Trees moved.
Then suddenly we were at the edge of a clearing. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the mountain of dirt.
‘Holy Hephaestus,’ Beckendorf whispered. ‘The Ant Hill.’
I wanted to back up and run. I’d never seen the Ant Hill before, but I’d heard stories from the older campers. The mound rose almost to the treetops – four storeys at least. Its sides were riddled with tunnels, and crawling in and out were thousands of…
‘Myrmekes,’ I muttered.
That’s Ancient Greek for ‘ants’, but these things were way more than that. They would’ve given any exterminator a heart attack.
The Myrmekes were the size of German shepherds. Their armoured shells glistened blood-red. Their eyes were beady black and their razor-sharp mandibles sliced and snapped. Some carried tree branches. Some carried chunks of raw meat that I really didn’t want to know about. Most carried bits of metal – old armour, swords, food platters that had somehow found their way out here from the dining pavilion. One ant was dragging the glossy black hood of a sports car.