When the last song was over, Tantalus said, “Well, that was lovely!”
He came forward with a toasted marshmallow on a stick and tried to pluck it off, real casual-like. But before he could touch it, the marshmallow flew off the stick. Tantalus made a wild grab, but the marshmallow committed suicide, diving into the flames.
Tantalus turned back toward us, smiling coldly. “Now then! Some announcements about tomorrow’s schedule.”
“Sir,” I said.
Tantalus’s eye twitched. “Our kitchen boy has something to say?”
Some of the Ares campers snickered, but I wasn’t going to let anybody embarrass me into silence. I stood and looked at Annabeth. Thank the gods, she stood up with me.
I said, “We have an idea to save the camp.”
Dead silence, but I could tell I’d gotten everybody’s interest, because the campfire flared bright yellow.
“Indeed,” Tantalus said blandly. “Well, if it has anything to do with chariots—”
“The Golden Fleece,” I said. “We know where it is.”
The flames burned orange. Before Tantalus could stop me, I blurted out my dream about Grover and Polyphemus’s island. Annabeth stepped in and reminded everybody what the Fleece could do. It sounded more convincing coming from her.
“The Fleece can save the camp,” she concluded. “I’m certain of it.”
“Nonsense,” said Tantalus. “We don’t need saving.”
Everybody stared at him until Tantalus started looking uncomfortable.
“Besides,” he added quickly, “the Sea of Monsters? That’s hardly an exact location. You wouldn’t even know where to look.”
“Yes, I would,” I said.
Annabeth leaned toward me and whispered, “You would?”
I nodded, because Annabeth had jogged something in my memory when she reminded me about our taxi drive with the Gray Sisters. At the time, the information they’d given me made no sense. But now …
“30, 31, 75, 12,” I said.
“Ooo-kay,” Tantalus said. “Thank you for sharing those meaningless numbers.”
“They’re sailing coordinates,” I said. “Latitude and longitude. I, uh, learned about it in social studies.”
Even Annabeth looked impressed. “30 degrees, 31 minutes north, 75 degrees, 12 minutes west. He’s right! The Gray Sisters gave us those coordinates. That’d be somewhere in the Atlantic, off the coast of Florida. The Sea of Monsters. We need a quest!”
“Wait just a minute,” Tantalus said.
But the campers took up the chant. “We need a quest! We need a quest!”
The flames rose higher.
“It isn’t necessary!” Tantalus insisted.
“Fine!” Tantalus shouted, his eyes blazing with anger. “You brats want me to assign a quest?”
“Very well,” he agreed. “I shall authorize a champion to undertake this perilous journey, to retrieve the Golden Fleece and bring it back to camp. Or die trying.”
My heart filled with excitement. I wasn’t going to let Tantalus scare me. This was what I needed to do. I was going to save Grover and the camp. Nothing would stop me.
“I will allow our champion to consult the Oracle!” Tantalus announced. “And choose two companions for the journey. And I think the choice of champion is obvious.”
Tantalus looked at Annabeth and me as if he wanted to flay us alive. “The champion should be one who has earned the camp’s respect, who has proven resourceful in the chariot races and courageous in the defense of the camp. You shall lead this quest … Clarisse!”
The fire flickered a thousand different colors. The Ares cabin started stomping and cheering,
Clarisse stood up, looking stunned. Then she swallowed, and her chest swelled with pride. “I accept the quest!”
“Wait!” I shouted. “Grover is my friend. The dream came to me.”
“Sit down!” yelled one of the Ares campers. “You had your chance last summer!”
“Yeah, he just wants to be in the spotlight again!” another said.
Clarisse glared at me. “I accept the quest!” she repeated. “I, Clarisse, daughter of Ares, will save the camp!”
The Ares campers cheered even louder. Annabeth protested, and the other Athena campers joined in. Everybody else started taking sides—shouting and arguing and throwing marshmallows. I thought it was going to turn into a full-fledged s’more war until Tantalus shouted, “Silence, you brats!”
His tone stunned even me.
“Sit down!” he ordered. “And I will tell you a ghost story.”
I didn’t know what he was up to, but we all moved reluctantly back to our seats. The evil aura radiating from Tantalus was as strong as any monster I’d ever faced.
“Once upon a time there was a mortal king who was beloved of the Gods!” Tantalus put his hand on his chest, and I got the feeling he was talking about himself.
“This king,” he said, “was even allowed to feast on Mount Olympus. But when he tried to take some ambrosia and nectar back to earth to figure out the recipe—just one little doggie bag, mind you—the gods punished him. They banned him from their halls forever! His own people mocked him! His children scolded him! And, oh yes, campers, he had horrible children. Children—just—like— you.”
He pointed a crooked finger at several people in the audience, including me.
“Do you know what he did to his ungrateful children?” Tantalus asked softly. “Do you know how he paid back the gods for their cruel punishment? He invited the Olympians to a feast at his palace, just to show there were no hard feelings. No one noticed that his children were missing. And when he served the gods dinner, my dear campers, can you guess what was in the stew?”
No one dared answer. The firelight glowed dark blue, reflecting evilly on Tantalus’s crooked face.
“Oh, the gods punished him in the afterlife,” Tantalus croaked. “They did indeed. But he’d had his moment of satisfaction, hadn’t he? His children never again spoke back to him or questioned his authority. And do you know what? Rumor has it that the king’s spirit now dwells at this very camp, waiting for a chance to take revenge on ungrateful, rebellious children. And so … are there any more complaints, before we send Clarisse off on her quest?”
Tantalus nodded at Clarisse. “The Oracle, my dear. Go on.”
She shifted uncomfortably, like even she didn’t want glory at the price of being Tantalus’s pet. “Sir—”
“Go!” he snarled.
She bowed awkwardly and hurried off toward the Big House.
“What about you, Percy Jackson?” Tantalus asked. “No comments from our dishwasher?”
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of punishing me again.
“Good,” Tantalus said. “And let me remind everyone— no one leaves this camp without my permission. Anyone who tries … well, if they survive the attempt, they will be expelled forever, but it won’t come to that. The harpies will be enforcing curfew from now on, and they are always hungry!
Good night, my dear campers. Sleep well.”
With a wave of Tantalus’s hand, the fire was extinguished, and the campers trailed off toward their cabins in the dark.
I couldn’t explain things to Tyson. He knew I was sad. He knew I wanted to go on a trip and Tantalus wouldn’t let me.
“You will go anyway?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “It would be hard. Very hard.”
“I will help.”
“No. I—uh, I couldn’t ask you to do that, big guy. Too dangerous.”
Tyson looked down at the pieces of metal he was assembling in his lap—springs and gears and tiny wires. Beckendorf had given him some tools and spare parts, and now Tyson spent every night tinkering, though I wasn’t sure how his huge hands could handle such delicate little pieces.
“What are you building?” I asked.
Tyson didn’t answer. Instead he made a whimpering sound in the back of his throat.
“Annabeth doesn’t like Cyclopes. You … don’t want me along?”
“Oh, that’s not it,” I said halfheartedly. “Annabeth likes you. Really.”
He had tears in the corners of his eye.
I remembered that Grover, like all satyrs, could read human emotions. I wondered if Cyclopes had the same ability.
Tyson folded up his tinkering project in an oilcloth. He lay down on his bunk bed and hugged his bundle like a teddy bear. When he turned toward the wall, I could see the weird scars on his back, like somebody had plowed over him with a tractor. I wondered for the millionth time how he’d gotten hurt.
“Daddy always cared for m-me,” he sniffled. “Now … I think he was mean to have a Cyclops boy. I should not have been born.”
“Don’t talk that way! Poseidon claimed you, didn’t he? So … he must care about you … a lot….”
My voice trailed off as I thought about all those years Tyson had lived on the streets of New York in a cardboard refrigerator box. How could Tyson think that Poseidon had cared for him? What kind of dad let that happen to his kid, even if his kid was a monster?
“Tyson … camp will be a good home for you. The others will get used to you. I promise.”
Tyson sighed. I waited for him to say something. Then I realized he was already asleep.
I lay back on my bed and tried to close my eyes, but I just couldn’t. I was afraid I might have another dream about Grover. If the empathy link was real … if something happened to Grover … would I ever wake up?
The full moon shone through my window. The sound of the surf rumbled in the distance. I could smell the warm scent of the strawberry fields, and hear the laughter of the dryads as they chased owls through the forest. But something felt wrong about the night—the sickness of Thalia’s tree, spreading across the valley.
Could Clarisse save Half-Blood Hill? I thought the odds were better of me getting a “Best Camper” award from Tantalus.
I got out of bed and pulled on some clothes. I grabbed a beach blanket and a six-pack of Coke from under my bunk. The Cokes were against the rules. No outside snacks or drinks were allowed, but if you talked to the right guy in Hermes’s cabin and paid him a few golden drachma, he could smuggle in almost anything from the nearest convenience store.
Sneaking out after curfew was against the rules, too. If I got caught I’d either get in big trouble or be eaten by the harpies. But I wanted to see the ocean. I always felt better there. My thoughts were clearer. I left the cabin and headed for the beach.
I spread my blanket near the surf and popped open a Coke. For some reason sugar and caffeine always calmed down my hyperactive brain. I tried to decide what to do to save the camp, but nothing came to me. I wished Poseidon would talk to me, give me some advice or something.
The sky was clear and starry. I was checking out the constellations Annabeth had taught me—Sagittarius, Hercules, Corona Borealis—when somebody said, “Beautiful, aren’t they?”