“No hitting my friends!” Tyson charged in, putting himself between the Hydra and Annabeth.
As Annabeth got to her feet, Tyson started smashing at the monster heads with his fists so fast it reminded me of the whack-a-mole game at the arcade. But even Tyson couldn’t fend off the Hydra forever.
We kept inching backward, dodging acid splashes and deflecting snapping heads without cutting them off, but I knew we were only postponing our deaths. Eventually, we would make a mistake and the thing would kill us.
Then I heard a strange sound—a chug-chug-chug that at first I thought was my heartbeat. It was so powerful it made the riverbank shake.
“What’s that noise?” Annabeth shouted, keeping her eyes on the Hydra.
“Steam engine,” Tyson said.
”What?” I ducked as the Hydra spat acid over my head.
Then from the river behind us, a familiar female voice shouted: “There! Prepare the thirty-two-pounder!”
I didn’t dare look away from the Hydra, but if that was who I thought it was behind us, I figured we now had enemies on two fronts.
A gravelly male voice said, “They’re too close, m’lady!”
“Damn the heroes!” the girl said. “Full steam ahead!”
“Fire at will, Captain!”
Annabeth understood what was happening a split second before I did. She yelled, “Hit the dirt!” and we dove for the ground as an earth-shattering BOOM echoed from the river. There was a flash of light, a column of smoke, and the Hydra exploded right in front of us, showering us with nasty green slime that vaporized as soon as it hit, the way monster guts tend to do.
“Gross!” screamed Annabeth.
“Steamship!” yelled Tyson.
I stood, coughing from the cloud of gunpowder smoke that was rolling across the banks.
Chugging toward us down the river was the strangest ship I’d ever seen. It rode low in the water like a submarine, its deck plated with iron. In the middle was a trapezoid-shaped casemate with slats on each side for cannons. A flag waved from the top—a wild boar and spear on a bloodred field. Lining the deck were zombies in gray uniforms— dead soldiers with shimmering faces that only partially covered their skulls, like the ghouls I’d seen in the Underworld guarding Hades’s palace.
The ship was an ironclad. A Civil War battle cruiser. I could just make out the name along the prow in moss-covered letters: CSS Birmingham.
And standing next to the smoking cannon that had almost killed us, wearing full Greek battle armor, was Clarisse.
“Losers,” she sneered. “But I suppose I have to rescue you. Come aboard.”
Chapter Eleven: Clarisse Blows Up Everything
“You are in so much trouble,” Clarisse said.
We’d just finished a ship tour we didn’t want, through dark rooms overcrowded with dead sailors. We’d seen the coal bunker, the boilers and engine, which huffed and groaned like it would explode any minute. We’d seen the pilothouse and the powder magazine and gunnery deck (Clarisse’s favorite) with two Dahlgren smoothbore cannons on the port and starboard sides and a Brooke nine-inch rifled gun fore and aft—all specially refitted to fire celestial bronze cannon balls.
Everywhere we went, dead Confederate sailors stared at us, their ghostly bearded faces shimmering over their skulls. They approved of Annabeth because she told them she was from Virginia. They were interested in me, too, because my name was Jackson—like the Southern general—but then I ruined it by telling them I was from New York. They all hissed and muttered curses about Yankees.
Tyson was terrified of them. All through the tour, he insisted Annabeth hold his hand, which she didn’t look too thrilled about.
Finally, we were escorted to dinner. The CSS Birmingham captain’s quarters were about the size of a walk-in closet, but still much bigger than any other room on board. The table was set with white linen and china. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, and Dr Peppers were served by skeletal crewmen. I didn’t want to eat anything served by ghosts, but my hunger overruled my fear.
“Tantalus expelled you for eternity,” Clarisse told us smugly. “Mr. D said if any of you show your face at camp again, he’ll turn you into squirrels and run you over with his SUV.”
“Did they give you this ship?” I asked.
“‘Course not. My father did.”
Clarisse sneered. “You think your daddy is the only one with sea power? The spirits on the losing side of every war owe a tribute to Ares. That’s their curse for being defeated. I prayed to my father for a naval transport and here it is. These guys will do anything I tell them. Won’t you, Captain?”
The captain stood behind her looking stiff and angry. His glowing green eyes fixed me with a hungry stare. “If it means an end to this infernal war, ma’am, peace at last, we’ll do anything.
Clarisse smiled. “Destroy anyone. I like that.”
“Clarisse,” Annabeth said, “Luke might be after the Fleece, too. We saw him. He’s got the coordinates and he’s heading south. He has a cruise ship full of monsters—”
“Good! I’ll blow him out of the water.”
“You don’t understand,” Annabeth said. We have to combine forces. Let us help you—”
“No!” Clarisse pounded the table. “This is my quest, smart girl! Finally I get to be the hero, and you two will not steal my chance.”
“Where are your cabin mates?” I asked. “You were allowed to take two friends with you, weren’t you?”
“They didn’t … I let them stay behind. To protect the camp.”
“You mean even the people in your own cabin wouldn’t help you?”
“Shut up, Prissy! I don’t need them! Or you!”
“Clarisse,” I said, “Tantalus is using you. He doesn’t care about the camp. He’d love to see it destroyed. He’s setting you up to fail.”
“No! I don’t care what the Oracle—” She stopped herself.
“What?” I said. “What did the Oracle tell you?”
“Nothing.” Clarisse’s ears turned pink. “All you need to know is that I’m finishing this quest and you’re not helping. On the other hand, I can’t let you go …”
“So we’re prisoners?” Annabeth asked.
“Guests. For now.” Clarisse propped her feet up on the white linen tablecloth and opened another Dr Pepper. “Captain, take them below. Assign them hammocks on the berth deck. If they don’t mind their manners, show them how we deal with enemy spies.”
The dream came as soon as I fell asleep.
Grover was sitting at his loom, desperately unraveling his wedding train, when the boulder door rolled aside and the Cyclops bellowed, “Aha!”
Grover yelped. “Dear! I didn’t—you were so quiet!”
“Unraveling!” Polyphemus roared. “So that’s the problem!”
“Oh, no. I—I wasn’t—”
“Come!” Polyphemus grabbed Grover around the waist and half carried, half dragged him through the tunnels of the cave. Grover struggled to keep his high heels on his hooves. His veil kept tilting on his head, threatening to come off.
The Cyclops pulled him into a warehouse-size cavern decorated with sheep junk. There was a wool-covered La-Z-Boy recliner and a wool-covered television set, crude bookshelves loaded with sheep collectibles—coffee mugs shaped like sheep faces, plaster figurines of sheep, sheep board games, and picture books and action figures. The floor was littered with piles of sheep bones, and other bones that didn’t look exactly like sheep—the bones of satyrs who’d come to the island looking for Pan.
Polyphemus set Grover down only long enough to move another huge boulder. Daylight streamed into the cave, and Grover whimpered with longing. Fresh air!
The Cyclops dragged him outside to a hilltop overlooking the most beautiful island I’d ever seen.
It was shaped kind of like a saddle cut in half by an ax. There were lush green hills on either side and a wide valley in the middle, split by a deep chasm that was spanned by a rope bridge.
Beautiful streams rolled to the edge of the canyon and dropped off in rainbow-colored waterfalls.
Parrots fluttered in the trees. Pink and purple flowers bloomed on the bushes. Hundreds of sheep grazed in the meadows, their wool glinting strangely like copper and silver coins.
And at the center of the island, right next to the rope bridge, was an enormous twisted oak tree with something glittering in its lowest bough.
The Golden Fleece.
Even in a dream, I could feel its power radiating across the island, making the grass greener, the flowers more beautiful. I could almost smell the nature magic at work. I could only imagine how powerful the scent would be for a satyr.
“Yes,” Polyphemus said proudly. “See over there? Fleece is the prize of my collection! Stole it from heroes long ago, and ever since—free food! Satyrs come from all over the world, like moths to flame. Satyrs good eating! And now—”
Polyphemus scooped up a wicked set of bronze shears.
Grover yelped, but Polyphemus just picked up the nearest sheep like it was a stuffed animal and shaved off its wool. He handed a fluffy mass of it to Grover.
“Put that on the spinning wheel!” he said proudly. “Magic. Cannot be unraveled.”
“Oh … well …”
“Poor Honeypie!” Polyphemus grinned. “Bad weaver. Ha-ha! Not to worry. That thread will solve problem. Finish wedding train by tomorrow!”
“Isn’t that … thoughtful of you!”
“But—but, dear,” Grover gulped, “what if someone were to rescue—I mean attack this island?” Grover looked straight at me, and I knew he was asking for my benefit. “What would keep them from marching right up here to your cave?”
“Wifey scared! So cute! Not to worry. Polyphemus has state-of-the-art security system. Have to get through my pets.”
Grover looked across the island, but there was nothing to see except sheep grazing peacefully in the meadows.
“And then,” Polyphemus growled, “they would have to get through me!”
He pounded his fist against the nearest rock, which cracked and split in half. “Now, come!”
he shouted. “Back to the cave.”
Grover looked about ready to cry—so close to freedom, but so hopelessly far. Tears welled in his eyes as the boulder door rolled shut, sealing him once again in the stinky torch-lit dankness of the Cyclops’s cave.
I woke to alarm bells ringing throughout the ship.
The captain’s gravelly voice: “All hands on deck! Find Lady Clarisse! Where is that girl?”
Then his ghostly face appeared above me. “Get up, Yankee. Your friends are already above.
We are approaching the entrance.”
“The entrance to what?”