“Sorry, Annabeth,” he said. “You bring your own equipment to this party.”
The shield was a problem. Fighting two-handed with just a sword gives you more power, but 87
fighting one-handed with a shield gives you better defense and versatility. There are more moves, 87
more options, more ways to kill. I thought back to Chiron, who’d told me to stay at camp no matter what, and learn to fight. Now I was going to pay for not listening to him.
Luke lunged and almost killed me on the first try. His sword went under my arm, slashing through my shirt and grazing my ribs.
I jumped back, then counterattacked with Riptide, but Luke slammed my blade away with his shield.
“My, Percy,” Luke chided. “You’re out of practice.”
He came at me again with a swipe to the head. I parried, returned with a thrust. He sidestepped easily.
The cut on my ribs stung. My heart was racing. When Luke lunged again, I jumped backward into the swimming pool and felt a surge of strength. I spun underwater, creating a funnel cloud, and blasted out of the deep end, straight at Luke’s face.
The force of the water knocked him down, spluttering and blinded. But before I could strike, he rolled aside and was on his feet again.
I attacked and sliced off the edge of his shield, but that didn’t even faze him. He dropped to a crouch and jabbed at my legs. Suddenly my thigh was on fire, with a pain so intense I collapsed. My jeans were ripped above the knee. I was hurt. I didn’t know how badly. Luke hacked downward and I rolled behind a deck chair. I tried to stand, but my leg wouldn’t take the weight.
“Perrrrrcy!” Grover bleated.
I rolled again as Luke’s sword slashed the deck chair in half, metal pipes and all.
I clawed toward the swimming pool, trying hard not to black out. I’d never make it. Luke knew it, too. He advanced slowly, smiling. The edge of his sword was tinged with red.
“One thing I want you to watch before you die, Percy.” He looked at the bear-man Oreius, who was still holding Annabeth and Grover by the necks. “You can eat your dinner now, Oreius.
“He-he! He-he!” The bear-man lifted my friends and bared his teeth.
That’s when all Hades broke loose.
A red-feathered arrow sprouted from Oreius’s mouth. With a surprised look on his hairy face, he crumpled to the deck.
“Brother!” Agrius wailed. He let the pegasus’s reins go slack just long enough for the black steed to kick him in the head and fly away free over Miami Bay.
For a split second, Luke’s guards were too stunned to do anything except watch the bear twins’ bodies dissolve into smoke.
Then there was a wild chorus of war cries and hooves thundering against metal. A dozen centaurs charged out of the main stairwell.
“Ponies!” Tyson cried with delight.
My mind had trouble processing everything I saw. Chiron was among the crowd, but his relatives were almost nothing like him. There were centaurs with black Arabian stallion bodies, others with gold palomino coats, others with orange-and-white spots like paint horses. Some wore brightly colored T-shirts with Day-Glo letters that said PARTY PONIES: SOUTH FLORIDA CHAPTER. Some were armed with bows, some with baseball bats, some with paintball guns. One had his face painted like a Comanche warrior and was waving a large orange Styrofoam hand making a big Number I. Another was bare-chested and painted entirely green. A third had googly-eye glasses with the eyeballs bouncing around on Slinky coils, and one of those baseball caps with soda-can-and-straw attachments on either side.
The Sea Monsters - 02
They exploded onto the deck with such ferocity and color that for a moment even Luke was stunned. I couldn’t tell whether they had come to celebrate or attack.
Apparently both. As Luke was raising his sword to rally his troops, a centaur shot a custom-made arrow with a leather boxing glove on the end. It smacked Luke in the face and sent him crashing into the swimming pool.
His warriors scattered. I couldn’t blame them. Facing the hooves of a rearing stallion is scary enough, but when it’s a centaur, armed with a bow and whooping it up in a soda-drinking hat, even the bravest warrior would retreat.
“Come get some!” yelled one of the party ponies.
They let loose with their paintball guns. A wave of blue and yellow exploded against Luke’s warriors, blinding them and splattering them from head to toe. They tried to run, only to slip and fall.
Chiron galloped toward Annabeth and Grover, neatly plucked them off the deck, and deposited them on his back.
I tried to get up, but my wounded leg still felt like it was on fire.
Luke was crawling out of the pool.
“Attack, you fools.’” he ordered his troops. Somewhere down below deck, a large alarm bell thrummed.
I knew any second we would be swamped by Luke’s reinforcements. Already, his warriors were getting over their surprise, coming at the centaurs with swords and spears drawn.
Tyson slapped half a dozen of them aside, knocking them over the guardrail into Miami Bay.
But more warriors were coming up the stairs.
“Withdraw, brethren!” Chiron said.
“You won’t get away with this, horse man!” Luke shouted. He raised his sword, but got smacked in the face with another boxing glove arrow, and sat down hard in a deck chair.
A palomino centaur hoisted me onto his back. “Dude, get your big friend!”
“Tyson!” I yelled. “Come on!”
Tyson dropped the two warriors he was about to tie into a knot and jogged after us. He jumped on the centaur’s back.
“Dude!” the centaur groaned, almost buckling under Tyson’s weight. “Do the words ‘low-carb diet’ mean anything to you?”
Luke’s warriors were organizing themselves into a phalanx. But by the time they were ready to advance, the centaurs had galloped to the edge of the deck and fearlessly jumped the guardrail, as if it were a steeplechase and not ten stories above the ground. I was sure we were going to die.
We plummeted toward the docks, but the centaurs hit the asphalt with hardly a jolt and galloped off, whooping and yelling taunts at the Princess Andromeda as we raced into the streets of downtown Miami.
I have no idea what the Miamians thought as we galloped by.
Streets and buildings began to blur as the centaurs picked up speed. It felt as if space were compacting—as if each centaur step took us miles and miles. In no time, we’d left the city behind.
We raced through marshy fields of high grass and ponds and stunted trees.
Finally, we found ourselves in a trailer park at the edge of a lake. The trailers were all horse trailers, tricked out with televisions and mini-refrigerators and mosquito netting. We were in a centaur camp.
“Dude!” said a party pony as he unloaded his gear. “Did you see that bear guy? He was all like: ‘Whoa, I have an arrow in my mouth!’”
The centaur with the googly-eye glasses laughed. “That was awesome! Head slam!”
The two centaurs charged at each other full-force and knocked heads, then went staggering off in different directions with crazy grins on their faces.
Chiron sighed. He set Annabeth and Grover down on a picnic blanket next to me. “I really wish my cousins wouldn’t slam their heads together. They don’t have the brain cells to spare.”
“Chiron,” I said, still stunned by the fact that he was here. “You saved us.”
He gave me a dry smile. “Well now, I couldn’t very well let you die, especially since you’ve cleared my name.”
“But how did you know where we were?” Annabeth asked.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
“Advanced planning, my dear. I figured you would wash up near Miami if you made it out of the Sea of Monsters alive. Almost everything strange washes up near Miami.”
“Gee, thanks,” Grover mumbled.
“No, no,” Chiron said. “I didn’t mean … Oh, never mind. I am glad to see you, my young satyr. The point is, I was able to eavesdrop on Percy’s Iris-message and trace the signal. Iris and I have been friends for centuries. I asked her to alert me to any important communications in this area. It then took no effort to convince my cousins to ride to your aid. As you see, centaurs can travel quite fast when we wish to. Distance for us is not the same as distance for humans.”
I looked over at the campfire, where three party ponies were teaching Tyson to operate a 89
paintball gun. I hoped they knew what they were getting into.
“So what now?” I asked Chiron. “We just let Luke sail away? He’s got Kronos aboard that ship. Or parts of him, anyway.”
Chiron knelt, carefully folding his front legs underneath him. He opened the medicine pouch on his belt and started to treat my wounds. “I’m afraid, Percy, that today has been something of a draw. We didn’t have the strength of numbers to take that ship. Luke was not organized enough to pursue us. Nobody won.”
“But we got the Fleece!” Annabeth said. “Clarisse is on her way back to camp with it right now.”
Chiron nodded, though he still looked uneasy. “You are all true heroes. And as soon as we get Percy fixed up, you must return to Half-Blood Hill. The centaurs shall carry you.”
“You’re coming, too?” I asked.
“Oh yes, Percy. I’ll be relieved to get home. My brethren here simply do not appreciate Dean Martin’s music. Besides, I must have some words with Mr. D. There’s the rest of the summer to plan. So much training to do. And I want to see … I’m curious about the Fleece.”
I didn’t know exactly what he meant, but it made me worried about what Luke had said: I was going to let you take the Fleece … once I was done with it.
Had he just been lying? I’d learned with Kronos there was usually a plan within a plan. The titan lord wasn’t called the Crooked One for nothing. He had ways of getting people to do what he wanted without them ever realizing his true intentions.
Over by the campfire, Tyson let loose with his paintball gun. A blue projectile splattered against one of the centaurs, hurling him backward into the lake. The centaur came up grinning, covered in swamp muck and blue paint, and gave Tyson two thumbs up.
“Annabeth,” Chiron said, “perhaps you and Grover would go supervise Tyson and my cousins before they, ah, teach each other too many bad habits?”
Annabeth met his eyes. Some kind of understanding passed between them.
“Sure, Chiron,” Annabeth said. “Come on, goat boy.”
“But I don’t like paintball.”
“Yes, you do.” She hoisted Grover to his hooves and led him off toward the campfire.
Chiron finished bandaging my leg. “Percy, I had a talk with Annabeth on the way here. A talk about the prophecy.”
Uh-oh, I thought.
“It wasn’t her fault,” I said. “I made her tell me.”
His eyes flickered with irritation. I was sure he was going to chew me out, but then his look turned to weariness. “I suppose I could not expect to keep it secret forever.”
“So am I the one in the prophecy?”