I ran outside and raced across the central yard, Grover right behind me. Dawn was just breaking, but the whole camp seemed to be stirring. Word was spreading. Something huge had happened. A few campers were already making their way toward the hill, satyrs and nymphs and heroes in a weird mix of armor and pajamas.
I heard the clop of horse hooves, and Chiron galloped up behind us, looking grim.
“Is it true?” he asked Grover.
Grover could only nod, his expression dazed.
I tried to ask what was going on, but Chiron grabbed me by the arm and effortlessly lifted me onto his back. Together we thundered up Half-Blood Hill, where a small crowd had started to gather.
I expected to see the Fleece missing from the pine tree, but it was still there, glittering in the first light of dawn. The storm had broken and the sky was bloodred.
“Curse the titan lord,” Chiron said. “He’s tricked us again, given himself another chance to control the prophecy.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The Fleece,” he said. “The Fleece did its work too well.”
We galloped forward, everyone moving out of our way. There at the base of the tree, a girl was lying unconscious. Another girl in Greek armor was kneeling next to her.
Blood roared in my ears. I couldn’t think straight. Annabeth had been attacked? But why was the Fleece still there?
The tree itself looked perfectly fine, whole and healthy, suffused with the essence of the Golden Fleece.
“It healed the tree,” Chiron said, his voice ragged. “And poison was not the only thing it purged.”
Then I realized Annabeth wasn’t the one lying on the ground. She was the one in armor, kneeling next to the unconscious girl. When Annabeth saw us, she ran to Chiron. “It… she … just suddenly there …”
Her eyes were streaming with tears, but I still didn’t understand. I was too freaked out to make sense of it all. I leaped off Chiron’s back and ran toward the unconscious girl. Chiron said: “Percy, wait!”
I knelt by her side. She had short black hair and freckles across her nose. She was built like a long-distance runner, lithe and strong, and she wore clothes that were somewhere between punk and Goth—a black T-shirt, black tattered jeans, and a leather jacket with buttons from a bunch of bands I’d never heard of.
She wasn’t a camper. I didn’t recognize her from any of the cabins. And yet I had the strangest feeling I’d seen her before….
“It’s true,” Grover said, panting from his run up the hill. “I can’t believe …”
Nobody else came close to the girl.
I put my hand on her forehead. Her skin was cold, but my fingertips tingled as if they were burning.
“She needs nectar and ambrosia,” I said. She was clearly a half-blood, whether she was a camper or not. I could sense that just from one touch. I didn’t understand why everyone was acting so scared.
I took her by the shoulders and lifted her into sitting position, resting her head on my shoulder.
“Come on!” I yelled to the others. “What’s wrong with you people? Let’s get her to the Big House.”
No one moved, not even Chiron. They were all too stunned.
Then the girl took a shaky breath. She coughed and opened her eyes.
Her irises were startlingly blue—electric blue.
The girl stared at me in bewilderment, shivering and wild-eyed. “Who—”
“I’m Percy,” I said. “You’re safe now.”
“Strangest dream …”
“No,” I assured her. “You’re okay. What’s your name?”
That’s when I knew. Even before she said it.
The girl’s blue eyes stared into mine, and I understood what the Golden Fleece quest had been about. The poisoning of the tree. Everything. Kronos had done it to bring another chess piece into play— another chance to control the prophecy.
Even Chiron, Annabeth, and Grover, who should’ve been celebrating this moment, were too shocked, thinking about what it might mean for the future. And I was holding someone who was destined to be my best friend, or possibly my worst enemy.
“I am Thalia,” the girl said. “Daughter of Zeus.”