As we came up the stairs to deck thirteen, where the admiralty suite was supposed to be, Annabeth hissed, “Hide!” and shoved us into a supply closet.
I heard a couple of guys coming down the hall.
“You see that Aethiopian drakon in the cargo hold?” one of them said.
The other laughed. “Yeah, it’s awesome.”
Annabeth was still invisible, but she squeezed my arm hard. I got a feeling I should know that second guy’s voice.
“I hear they got two more coming,” the familiar voice said. “They keep arriving at this rate, oh, man—no contest!”
The voices faded down the corridor.
“That was Chris Rodriguez!” Annabeth took off her cap and turned visible. “You remember—from Cabin Eleven.”
I sort of recalled Chris from the summer before. He was one of those undetermined campers who got stuck in the Hermes cabin because his Olympian dad or mom never claimed him. Now that I thought about it, I realized I hadn’t seen Chris at camp this summer. “What’s another half-blood doing here?”
Annabeth shook her head, clearly troubled.
We kept going down the corridor. I didn’t need maps anymore to know I was getting close to Luke. I sensed something cold and unpleasant—the presence of evil.
“Percy.” Annabeth stopped suddenly. “Look.”
She stood in front of a glass wall looking down into the multistory canyon that ran through the middle of the ship. At the bottom was the Promenade—a mall full of shops— but that’s not what had caught Annabeth’s attention.
A group of monsters had assembled in front of the candy store: a dozen Laistrygonian giants like the ones who’d attacked me with dodge balls, two hellhounds, and a few even stranger creatures—humanoid females with twin serpent tails instead of legs.
“Scythian Dracaenae,” Annabeth whispered. “Dragon women.”
The monsters made a semicircle around a young guy in Greek armor who was hacking on a straw dummy. A lump formed in my throat when I realized the dummy was wearing an orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt. As we watched, the guy in armor stabbed the dummy through its belly and ripped upward. Straw flew everywhere. The monsters cheered and howled.
Annabeth stepped away from the window. Her face was ashen.
“Come on,” I told her, trying to sound braver than I felt. “The sooner we find Luke the better.”
At the end of the hallway were double oak doors that looked like they must lead somewhere important. When we were thirty feet away, Tyson stopped. “Voices inside.”
“You can hear that far?” I asked.
Tyson closed his eye like he was concentrating hard. Then his voice changed, becoming a husky approximation of Luke’s. “—the prophecy ourselves. The fools won’t know which way to turn.”
Before I could react, Tyson’s voice changed again, becoming deeper and gruffer, like the other guy we’d heard talking to Luke outside the cafeteria. “You really think the old horseman is gone for good?”
Tyson laughed Luke’s laugh. “They can’t trust him. Not with the skeletons in his closet. The poisoning of the tree was the final straw.”
Annabeth shivered. “Stop that, Tyson! How do you do that? It’s creepy.”
Tyson opened his eye and looked puzzled. “Just listening.”
“Keep going,” I said. “What else are they saying?”
Tyson closed his eye again.
He hissed in the gruff man’s voice: “Quiet!” Then Luke’s voice, whispering: “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Tyson said in the gruff voice. “Right outside.”
Too late, I realized what was happening.
I just had time to say, “Run!” when the doors of the stateroom burst open and there was Luke, flanked by two hairy giants armed with javelins, their bronze tips aimed right at our chests.
“Well,” Luke said with a crooked smile. “If it isn’t my two favorite cousins. Come right in.”
The stateroom was beautiful, and it was horrible.
The beautiful part: Huge windows curved along the back wall, looking out over the stern of the ship. Green sea and blue sky stretched all the way to the horizon. A Persian rug covered the floor. Two plush sofas occupied the middle of the room, with a canopied bed in one corner and a mahogany dining table in the other. The table was loaded with food—pizza boxes, bottles of soda, and a stack of roast beef sandwiches on a silver platter.
The horrible part: On a velvet dais at the back of the room lay a ten-foot-long golden casket.
A sarcophagus, engraved with Ancient Greek scenes of cities in flames and heroes dying grisly deaths. Despite the sunlight streaming through the windows, the casket made the whole room feel cold.
“Well,” Luke said, spreading his arms proudly. “A little nicer than Cabin Eleven, huh?”
He’d changed since the last summer. Instead of Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, he wore a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and leather loafers. His sandy hair, which used to be so unruly, was now clipped short. He looked like an evil male model, showing off what the fashionable college-age villain was wearing to Harvard this year.
He still had the scar under his eye—a jagged white line from his battle with a dragon. And propped against the sofa was his magical sword, Backbiter, glinting strangely with its half-steel, half-Celestial bronze blade that could kill both mortals and monsters.
“Sit,” he told us. He waved his hand and three dining chairs scooted themselves into the center of the room.
None of us sat.
Luke’s large friends were still pointing their javelins at us. They looked like twins, but they weren’t human. They stood about eight feet tall, for one thing, and wore only blue jeans, probably because their enormous chests were already shag-carpeted with thick brown fur. They had claws for fingernails, feet like paws. Their noses were snoutlike, and their teeth were all pointed canines.
“Where are my manners?” Luke said smoothly. “These are my assistants, Agrius and Oreius. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.”
I said nothing. Despite the javelins pointed at me, it wasn’t the bear twins who scared me.
I’d imagined meeting Luke again many times since he’d tried to kill me last summer. I’d pictured myself boldly standing up to him, challenging him to a duel. But now that we were face-to-face, I could barely stop my hands from shaking.
“You don’t know Agrius and Oreius’s story?” Luke asked. “Their mother … well, it’s sad, really. Aphrodite ordered the young woman to fall in love. She refused and ran to Artemis for help.
Artemis let her become one of her maiden huntresses, but Aphrodite got her revenge. She bewitched the young woman into falling in love with a bear. When Artemis found out, she abandoned the girl in disgust. Typical of the gods, wouldn’t you say? They fight with one another and the poor humans get caught in the middle. The girl’s twin sons here, Agrius and Oreius, have no love for Olympus. They like half-bloods well enough, though …”
“For lunch,” Agrius growled. His gruff voice was the one I’d heard talking with Luke earlier.
“Hehe! Hehe!” His brother Oreius laughed, licking his fur-lined lips. He kept laughing like he was having an asthmatic fit until Luke and Agrius both stared at him.
“Shut up, you idiot!” Agrius growled. “Go punish yourself!”
Oreius whimpered. He trudged over to the corner of the room, slumped onto a stool, and banged his forehead against the dining table, making the silver plates rattle.
Luke acted like this was perfectly normal behavior. He made himself comfortable on the sofa and propped his feet up on the coffee table. “Well, Percy, we let you survive another year. I hope you appreciated it. How’s your mom? How’s school?”
“You poisoned Thalia’s tree.”
Luke sighed. “Right to the point, eh? Okay, sure I poisoned the tree. So what?”
“How could you?” Annabeth sounded so angry I thought she’d explode. “Thalia saved your life! Our lives! How could you dishonor her—”
“I didn’t dishonor her!” Luke snapped. “The gods dishonored her, Annabeth! If Thalia were alive, she’d be on my side.”
“If you knew what was coming, you’d understand—”
“I understand you want to destroy the camp!” she yelled. “You’re a monster!”
Luke shook his head. “The gods have blinded you. Can’t you imagine a world without them, Annabeth? What good is that ancient history you study? Three thousand years of baggage! The West is rotten to the core. It has to be destroyed. Join me! We can start the world anew. We could use your intelligence, Annabeth.”
“Because you have none of your own!”
His eyes narrowed. “I know you, Annabeth. You deserve better than tagging along on some hopeless quest to save the camp. Half-Blood Hill will be overrun by monsters within the month. The heroes who survive will have no choice but to join us or be hunted to extinction. You really want to be on a losing team … with company like this?” Luke pointed at Tyson.
“Hey!” I said.
“Traveling with a Cyclops,” Luke chided. “Talk about dishonoring Thalia’s memory! I’m surprised at you, Annabeth. You of all people—”
“Stop it!” she shouted.
I didn’t know what Luke was talking about, but Annabeth buried her head in her hands like she was about to cry.
“Leave her alone,” I said. “And leave Tyson out this.”
Luke laughed. “Oh, yeah, I heard. Your father claimed him.”
I must have looked surprised, because Luke smiled. “Yes, Percy, I know all about that. And about your plan to find the Fleece. What were those coordinates, again … 30, 31, 75, 12? You see, I still have friends at camp who keep me posted.”
“Spies, you mean.”
He shrugged. “How many insults from your father can you stand, Percy? You think he’s grateful to you? You think Poseidon cares for you any more than he cares for this monster?”
Tyson clenched his fists and made a rumbling sound down in his throat.
Luke just chuckled. “The gods are so using you, Percy. Do you have any idea what’s in store for you if you reach your sixteenth birthday? Has Chiron even told you the prophecy?”
I wanted to get in Luke’s face and tell him off, but as usual, he knew just how to throw me off balance.
I mean, I knew Chiron had received a prophecy from the Oracle many years ago. I knew part of it was about me. But, if I reached my sixteenth birthday? I didn’t like the sound of that.
“I know what I need to know,” I managed. “Like, who my enemies are.”
“Then you’re a fool.”
Tyson smashed the nearest dining chair to splinters. “Percy is not a fool!”
Before I could stop him, he charged Luke. His fists came down toward Luke’s head—a double overhead blow that would’ve knocked a hole in titanium—but the bear twins intercepted.