He handed me the cash. Fives and tens, at least three hundred dollars.
I ran to the curb and grabbed a taxi that was just letting out a family of cruise passengers.
“Clarisse,” I yelled. “Come on. You’re going to the airport. Annabeth, give her the Fleece.”
I’m not sure which of them looked more stunned as I took the Fleece letter jacket from Annabeth, tucked the cash into its pocket, and put it in Clarisse’s arms.
Clarisse said, “You’d let me—”
“It’s your quest,” I said. “We only have enough money for one flight. Besides, I can’t travel by air. Zeus would blast me into a million pieces. That’s what the prophecy meant: you’d fail without friends, meaning you’d need our help, but you’d have to fly home alone. You have to get the Fleece back safely.”
I could see her mind working—suspicious at first, wondering what trick I was playing, then finally deciding I meant what I said.
She jumped in the cab. “You can count on me. I won’t fail.”
“Not failing would be good.”
The cab peeled out in a cloud of exhaust. The Fleece was on its way.
“Percy,” Annabeth said, “that was so—”
“Generous?” Grover offered.
“Insane,” Annabeth corrected. “You’re betting the lives of everybody at camp that Clarisse will get the Fleece safely back by tonight?”
“It’s her quest,” I said. “She deserves a chance.”
“Percy is nice,” Tyson said.
“Percy is too nice,” Annabeth grumbled, but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, she was a little impressed. I’d surprised her, anyway. And that wasn’t easy to do.
“Come on,” I told my friends. “Let’s find another way home.”
That’s when I turned and found a sword’s point at my throat.
“Hey, cuz,” said Luke. “Welcome back to the States.”
His bear-man thugs appeared on either of side of us. One grabbed Annabeth and Grover by their T-shirt collars. The other tried to grab Tyson, but Tyson knocked him into a pile of luggage and roared at Luke.
“Percy,” Luke said calmly, “tell your giant to back down or I’ll have Oreius bash your friends’ heads together.”
Oreius grinned and raised Annabeth and Grover off the ground, kicking and screaming.
“What do you want, Luke?” I growled.
He smiled, the scar rippling on the side of his face.
He gestured toward the end of the dock, and I noticed what should’ve been obvious. The biggest boat in port was the Princess Andromeda.
“Why, Percy,” Luke said, “I want to extend my hospitality, of course.”
The bear twins herded us aboard the Princess Andromeda. They threw us down on the aft deck in front of a swimming pool with sparkling fountains that sprayed into the air. A dozen of Luke’s assorted goons—snake people, Laistrygonians, demigods in battle armor—had gathered to watch us get some “hospitality.”
“And so, the Fleece,” Luke mused. “Where is it?” He looked us over, prodding my shirt with the tip of his sword, poking Grover’s jeans.
“Hey!” Grover yelled. “That’s real goat fur under there!”
“Sorry, old friend.” Luke smiled. “Just give me the Fleece and I’ll leave you to return to your, ah, little nature quest.”
“Blaa-ha-ha!” Grover protested. “Some old friend!”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me.” Luke’s voice was dangerously calm. “Where—is—the—Fleece?”
“Not here,” I said. I probably shouldn’t have told him anything, but it felt good to throw the truth in his face. “We sent it on ahead of us. You messed up.”
Luke’s eyes narrowed. “You’re lying. You couldn’t have …” His face reddened as a horrible possibility occurred to him. “Clarisse?”
“You trusted … you gave …”
The bear giant flinched. “Y-yes?”
“Get below and prepare my steed. Bring it to the deck. I need to fly to the Miami Airport, fast.’”
“Do it!” Luke screamed. “Or I’ll feed you to the drakon!”
The bear-man gulped and lumbered down the stairs. Luke paced in front of the swimming pool, cursing in Ancient Greek, gripping his sword so tight his knuckles turned white.
The rest of Luke’s crew looked uneasy. Maybe they’d never seen their boss so unhinged before.
I started thinking … If I could use Luke’s anger, get him to talk so everybody could hear how crazy his plans were …
I looked at the swimming pool, at the fountains spraying mist into the air, making a rainbow in the sunset. And suddenly I had an idea.
“You’ve been toying with us all along,” I said. “You wanted us to bring you the Fleece and save you the trouble of getting it.”
Luke scowled. “Of course, you idiot! And you’ve messed everything up!”
“Traitor!” I dug my last gold drachma out of my pocket and threw it at Luke. As I expected, he dodged it easily.
The coin sailed into the spray of rainbow-colored water.
I hoped my prayer would be accepted in silence. I thought with all my heart: O goddess, accept my offering.
“You tricked all of us!” I yelled at Luke. “Even DIONYSUS at CAMP HALF-BLOOD!”
Behind Luke, the fountain began to shimmer, but I needed everyone’s attention on me, so I uncapped Riptide.
Luke just sneered. “This is no time for heroics, Percy. Drop your puny little sword, or I’ll have you killed sooner rather than later.”
“Who poisoned Thalia’s tree, Luke?”
“I did, of course,” he snarled. “I already told you that. I used elder python venom, straight from the depths of Tartarus.”
“Chiron had nothing to do with it?”
“Ha! You know he would never do that. The old fool wouldn’t have the guts.”
“You call it guts? Betraying your friends? Endangering the whole camp?”
Luke raised his sword. “You don’t understand the half of it. I was going to let you take the Fleece … once I was done with it.”
That made me hesitate. Why would he let me take the Fleece? He must’ve been lying. But I couldn’t afford to lose his attention.
“You were going to heal Kronos,” I said.
“Yes! The Fleece’s magic would’ve sped his mending process by tenfold. But you haven’t stopped us, Percy. You’ve only slowed us down a little.”
“And so you poisoned the tree, you betrayed Thalia, you set us up—all to help Kronos destroy the gods.”
Luke gritted his teeth. “You know that! Why do you keep asking me?”
“Because I want everybody in the audience to hear you.”
Then his eyes narrowed. He looked behind him and his goons did the same. They gasped and stumbled back.
Above the pool, shimmering in the rainbow mist, was an Iris-message vision of Dionysus, Tantalus, and the whole camp in the dining pavilion. They sat in stunned silence, watching us.
“Well,” said Dionysus dryly, “some unplanned dinner entertainment.”
“Mr. D, you heard him,” I said. “You all heard Luke. The poisoning of the tree wasn’t Chiron’s fault.”
Mr. D sighed. “I suppose not.”
“The Iris-message could be a trick,” Tantalus suggested, but his attention was mostly on his cheeseburger, which he was trying to corner with both hands.
“I fear not,” Mr. D said, looking with distaste at Tantalus. “It appears I shall have to reinstate Chiron as activities director. I suppose I do miss the old horse’s pinochle games.”
Tantalus grabbed the cheeseburger. It didn’t bolt away from him. He lifted it from the plate and stared at it in amazement, as if it were the largest diamond in the world. “I got it!” he cackled.
“We are no longer in need of your services, Tantalus,” Mr. D announced.
Tantalus looked stunned. “What? But—”
“You may return to the Underworld. You are dismissed.”
As he dissolved into mist, his fingers clutched at the cheeseburger, trying to bring it to his mouth. But it was too late. He disappeared and the cheeseburger fell back onto its plate. The campers exploded into cheering.
Luke bellowed with rage. He slashed his sword through the fountain and the Iris-message dissolved, but the deed was done.
I was feeling pretty good about myself, until Luke turned and gave me a murderous look.
“Kronos was right, Percy. You’re an unreliable weapon. You need to be replaced.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I didn’t have time to think about it. One of his men blew a brass whistle, and the deck doors flew open. A dozen more warriors poured out, making a circle around us, the brass tips of their spears bristling.
Luke smiled at me. “You’ll never leave this boat alive.”
The Party Ponies Invade
“One on one,” I challenged Luke. “What are you afraid of?”
Luke curled his lip. The soldiers who were about to kill us hesitated, waiting for his order.
Before he could say anything, Agrius, the bear-man, burst onto the deck leading a flying horse. It was the first pure-black pegasus I’d ever seen, with wings like a giant raven. The pegasus mare bucked and whinnied. I could understand her thoughts. She was calling Agrius and Luke some names so bad Chiron would’ve washed her muzzle out with saddle soap.
“Sir!” Agrius called, dodging a pegasus hoof. “Your steed is ready!”
Luke kept his eyes on me.
“I told you last summer, Percy,” he said. “You can’t bait me into a fight.”
“And you keep avoiding one,” I noticed. “Scared your warriors will see you get whipped?”
Luke glanced at his men, and he saw I’d trapped him. If he backed down now, he would look weak. If he fought me, he’d lose valuable time chasing after Clarisse. For my part, the best I could hope for was to distract him, giving my friends a chance to escape. If anybody could think of a plan to get them out of there, Annabeth could. On the downside, I knew how good Luke was at sword-fighting.
“I’ll kill you quickly,” he decided, and raised his weapon. Backbiter was a foot longer than my own sword. Its blade glinted with an evil gray-and-gold light where the human steel had been
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
melded with celestial bronze. I could almost feel the blade fighting against itself, like two opposing magnets bound together. I didn’t know how the blade had been made, but I sensed a tragedy.
Someone had died in the process. Luke whistled to one of his men, who threw him a round leather-and-bronze shield.
He grinned at me wickedly.
“Luke,” Annabeth said, “at least give him a shield.”