Hephaestus stood. “Good-bye, lad. You did well, destroying the telekhines. I’ll always remember you for that.”
It sounded very final, that good-bye. Then he erupted into a column of flame, and the fire moved over the water, heading back to the world outside.
I walked along the beach for several hours. When I finally came back to the meadow, it was very late, maybe four or five in the morning, but Calypso was still in her garden, tending the flowers by starlight. Her moonlace glowed silver, and the other plants responded to the magic, glowing red and yellow and blue.
“He has ordered you to return,” Calypso guessed.
“Well, not ordered. He gave me a choice.”
Her eyes met mine. “I promised I would not offer.”
“For you to stay.”
“Stay,” I said. “Like…forever?”
“You would be immortal on this island,” she said quietly. “You would never age or die. You could leave the fight to others, Percy Jackson. You could escape your prophecy.”
I stared at her, stunned. “Just like that?”
She nodded. “Just like that.”
Calypso rose and took my hand. Her touch sent a warm current through my body. “You asked about my curse, Percy. I did not want to tell you. the truth is the gods send me companionship from time to time. Every thousand years or so, they allow a hero to wash up on my shores, someone who needs my help. I tend to him and befriend him, but it is never random. The Fates make sure that the sort of hero they send…”
Her voice trembled, and she had to stop.
I squeezed her hand tighter. “What? What have I done to make you sad?”
“They send a person who can never stay,” she whispered. “Who can never accept my offer of companionship for more than a little while. They send me a hero I can’t help…just the sort of person I can’t help falling in love with.”
The night was quiet except for the gurgle of the fountains and waves lapping on the shore. It took me a long time to realize what she was saying.
“Me?” I asked.
“If you could see your face.” She suppressed a smile, though her eyes were still teary. “Of course, you.”
“That’s why you’ve been pulling away all this time?”
“I tried very hard. But I can’t help it. The Fates are cruel. They sent you to me, my brave one, knowing that you would break my heart.”
“But…I’m just…I mean, I’m just me.”
“That is enough,” Calypso promised. “I told myself I would not even speak of this. I would let you go without even offering. But I can’t. I suppose the Fates knew that, too. You could stay with me, Percy. I’m afraid that is the only way you could help me.”
I stared at the horizon. The first red streaks of dawn were lightening the sky. I could stay here forever, disappear from the earth. I could live with Calypso, with invisible servants tending to my every need. We could grow flowers in the garden and talk to songbirds and walk on the beach under perfect blue skies. No war. No prophecy. No more taking sides.
“I can’t,” I told her.
She looked down sadly.
“I would never do anything to hurt you,” I said, “but my friends need me. I know how to help them now. I have to get back.”
She picked a flower from her garden—a sprig of silver moonlace. Its glow faded as the sunrise came up. Daybreak is a good time for decisions, Hephaestus had said. Calypso tucked the flower into my T-shirt pocket.
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me on the forehead, like a blessing. “Then come to the beach, my hero. And we will send you on your way.”
The raft was a ten-foot square of logs lashed together with a pole for a mast and a simple white linen sail. It didn’t look like it would be very seaworthy, or lakeworthy.
“This will take you wherever you desire,” Calypso promised. “It is quite safe.”
I took her hand, but she let it slip out of mine.
“Maybe I can visit you,” I said.
She shook her head. “No man ever finds Ogygia twice, Percy. When you leave, I will never see you again.”
“Go, please.” Her voice broke. “The Fates are cruel, Percy. Just remember me.” Then a little trace of her smile returned. “Plant a garden in Manhattan for me, will you?”
“I promise.” I stepped onto the raft. Immediately it began to sail from the shore.
As I sailed onto the lake I realized the Fates really were cruel. They sent Calypso someone she couldn’t help but love. But it worked both ways. For the rest of my life I would always be thinking about her. She would always be my biggest what if.
Within minutes the island of Ogygia was lost in the mist. I was sailing alone over the water toward the sunrise.
Then I told the raft what to do. I said the only place I could think of, because I needed comfort and friends.
“Camp Half-Blood,” I said. “Sail me home.”
WE HIRE A NEW GUIDE
Hours later, my raft washed up at Camp Half-Blood. How I got there, I have no idea. At some point the lake water just changed to salt water. The familiar shoreline of Long Island appeared up ahead, and a couple of friendly great white sharks surfaced and steered me toward the beach.
When I landed, the camp seemed deserted. It was late afternoon, but the archery range was empty. The climbing wall poured lava and rumbled all by itself. Pavilion: nothing. Cabins: all vacant. Then I noticed smoke rising from the amphitheater. Too early for a campfire, and I didn’t figure they were roasting marshmallows. I ran toward it.
Before I even got there I heard Chiron making an announcement. When I realized what he was saying, I stopped dead in my tracks.
“—assume he is dead,” Chiron said. “After so long a silence, it is unlikely our prayers will be answered. I have asked his best surviving friend to do the final honors.”
I came up on the back of the amphitheater. Nobody noticed me. They were all looking forward, watching as Annabeth took a long green silk burial cloth, embroidered with a trident, and set it on the flames. They were burning my shroud.
Annabeth turned to face the audience. She looked terrible. Her eyes were puffy from crying, but she managed to say, “He was probably the bravest friend I’ve ever had. He…” Then she saw me. Her face went blood red. “He’s right there!”
Heads turned. People gasped.
“Percy!” Beckendorf grinned. A bunch of other kids crowded around me and clapped me on the back. I heard a few curses from the Ares cabin, but Clarisse just rolled her eyes, like she couldn’t believe I’d had the nerve to survive. Chiron cantered over and everyone made way for him.
“Well,” he sighed with obvious relief. “I don’t believe I’ve ever been happier to see a camper return. But you must tell me—”
“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” Annabeth interrupted, shoving aside the other campers. I thought she was going to punch me, but instead she hugged me so fiercely she nearly cracked my ribs. The other campers fell silent.
Annabeth seemed to realize she was making a scene and pushed me away.
“I—we thought you were dead, Seaweed Brain!”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I got lost.”
“LOST?” she yelled. “Two weeks, Percy? Where in the world—”
“Annabeth,” Chiron interrupted. “Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere more private, shall we? The rest of you, back to your normal activities!”
Without waiting for us to protest, he picked up Annabeth and me as easily as if we were kittens, slung us both on his back, and galloped off toward the Big House.
I didn’t tell them the whole story. I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about Calypso. I explained how I’d caused the explosion at Mount St. Helens and gotten blasted out of the volcano. I told them I’d been marooned on an island. Then Hephaestus had found me and told me I could leave. A magic raft had carried me back to camp.
All that was true, but as I said it my palms felt sweaty.
“You’ve been gone two weeks.” Annabeth’s voice was steadier now, but she still looked pretty shaken up. “When I heard the explosion, I thought—”
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. But I figured out how to get through the Labyrinth. I talked to Hephaestus.”
“He told you the answer?”
“Well, he sort of told me that I already knew. And I do. I understand now.”
I told them my idea.
Annabeth’s jaw dropped. “Percy, that’s crazy!”
Chiron sat back in his wheelchair and stroked his beard. “There is precedent, however. Theseus had the help of Ariadne. Harriet Tubman, daughter of Hermes, used many mortals on her Underground Railroad for just this reason.”
“But this is my quest,” Annabeth said. “I need to lead it.”
Chiron looked uncomfortable. “My dear, it is your quest. But you need help.”
“And this is supposed to help? Please! It’s wrong. It’s cowardly. It’s—”
“Hard to admit we need a mortal’s help,” I said. “But it’s true.”
Annabeth glared at me. “You are the single most annoying person I have ever met!” And she stormed out of the room.
I stared at the doorway. I felt like hitting something. “So much for being the bravest friend she’s ever had.”
“She will calm down,” Chiron promised. “She’s jealous, my boy.”
“That’s stupid. She’s not…it’s not like…”
Chiron chuckled. “It hardly matters. Annabeth is very territorial about her friends, in case you haven’t noticed. She was quite worried about you. And now that you’re back, I think she suspects where you were marooned.”
I met his eyes, and I knew Chiron had guessed about Calypso. It was hard to hide anything from a guy who’s been training heroes for three thousand years. He’s pretty much seen it all.
“We won’t dwell on your choices,” Chiron said. “You came back. That is what matters.”
“Tell that to Annabeth.”
Chiron smiled. “In the morning I will have Argus take the two of you into Manhattan. You might stop by your mother’s, Percy. She is…understandably distraught.”
My heart skipped a beat. All that time on Calypso’s island, I’d never even thought how my mom would be feeling. She’d think I was dead. She’d be devastated. What was wrong with me that I hadn’t even considered that?
“Chiron,” I said, “what about Grover and Tyson? Do you think—”
“I don’t know, my boy.” Chiron gazed into the empty fireplace. “Juniper is quite distressed. All her branches are turning yellow. The Council of Cloven Elders had revoked Grover’s searcher license in absentia. Assuming he comes back alive, they will force him into a shameful exile.” He sighed. “Grover and Tyson are very resourceful, however. We can still hope.”