How could music cause so many lives to veer off course? I mean, sure, there were some Top Forty songs that made me want to take a fiery nosedive, but still … What could the Sirens possibly sing about?
For one dangerous moment, I understood Annabeth’s curiosity. I was tempted to take out the earplugs, just to get a taste of the song. I could feel the Sirens’ voices vibrating in the timbers of the ship, pulsing along with the roar of blood in my ears.
Annabeth was pleading with me. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She strained against the ropes, as if they were holding her back from everything she cared about.
How could you be so cruel? She seemed to be asking me . I thought you were my friend.
I glared at the misty island. I wanted to uncap my sword, but there was nothing to fight. How do you fight a song?
I tried hard not to look at Annabeth. I managed it for about five minutes.
That was my big mistake.
When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I looked back and found … a heap of cut ropes. An empty mast. Annabeth’s bronze knife lay on the deck. Somehow, she’d managed to wriggle it into her hand. I’d totally forgotten to disarm her.
I rushed to the side of the boat and saw her, paddling madly for the island, the waves carrying her straight toward the jagged rocks.
I screamed her name, but if she heard me, it didn’t do any good. She was entranced, swimming toward her death.
I looked back at the pilot’s wheel and yelled, “Stay!”
Then I jumped over the side.
I sliced into the water and willed the currents to bend around me, making a jet stream that shot me forward.
I came to the surface and spotted Annabeth, but a wave caught her, sweeping her between two razor-sharp fangs of rock.
I had no choice. I plunged after her.
I dove under the wrecked hull of a yacht, wove through a collection of floating metal balls on chains that I realized afterward were mines. I had to use all my power over water to avoid getting smashed against the rocks or tangled in the nets of barbed wire strung just below the surface.
I jetted between the two rock fangs and found myself in a half-moon-shaped bay. The water was choked with more rocks and ship wreckage and floating mines. The beach was black volcanic sand.
I looked around desperately for Annabeth.
There she was.
Luckily or unluckily, she was a strong swimmer. She’d made it past the mines and the rocks.
She was almost to the black beach.
Then the mist cleared and I saw them—the Sirens.
Imagine a flock of vultures the size of people—with dirty black plumage, gray talons, and wrinkled pink necks. Now imagine human heads on top of those necks, but the human heads keep changing.
I couldn’t hear them, but I could see they were singing. As their mouths moved, their faces morphed into people I knew—my mom, Poseidon, Grover, Tyson, Chiron. All the people I most wanted to see. They smiled reassuringly, inviting me forward. But no matter what shape they took, their mouths were greasy and caked with the remnants of old meals. Like vultures, they’d been eating with their faces, and it didn’t look like they’d been feasting on Monster Donuts.
Annabeth swam toward them.
I knew I couldn’t let her get out of the water. The sea was my only advantage. It had always protected me one way or another. I propelled myself forward and grabbed her inkle.
The moment I touched her, a shock went through my body, and I saw the Sirens the way Annabeth must’ve been seeing them.
Three people sat on a picnic blanket in Central Park. A feast was spread out before them. I recognized Annabeth’s dad from photos she’d shown me—an athletic-looking, sandy-haired guy in his forties. He was holding hands with a beautiful woman who looked a lot like Annabeth. She was dressed casually—in blue jeans and a denim shirt and hiking boots—but something about the woman radiated power. I knew that I was looking at the goddess Athena. Next to them sat a young man … Luke.
The whole scene glowed in a warm, buttery light. The three of them were talking and laughing, and when they saw Annabeth, their faces lit up with delight. Annabeth’s mom and dad held out their arms invitingly. Luke grinned and gestured for Annabeth to sit next to him—as if he’d never betrayed her, as if he were still her friend.
Behind the trees of Central Park, a city skyline rose. I caught my breath, because it was Manhattan, but not Manhattan. It had been totally rebuilt from dazzling white marble, bigger and grander than ever—with golden windows and rooftop gardens. It was better than New York. Better than Mount Olympus.
I knew immediately that Annabeth had designed it all. She was the architect for a whole new world. She had reunited her parents. She had saved Luke. She had done everything she’d ever wanted.
I blinked hard. When I opened my eyes, all I saw were the Sirens—ragged vultures with human faces, ready to feed on another victim.
I pulled Annabeth back into the surf. I couldn’t hear her, but I could tell she was screaming.
She kicked me in the face, but I held on.
I willed the currents to carry us out into the bay. Annabeth pummeled and kicked me, making it hard to concentrate. She thrashed so much we almost collided with a floating mine. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never get back to the ship alive if she kept fighting.
We went under and Annabeth stopped struggling. Her expression became confused. Then our heads broke the surface and she started to fight again.
The water! Sound didn’t travel well underwater. If I could submerge her long enough, I could break the spell of the music. Of course, Annabeth wouldn’t be able to breathe, but at the moment, that seemed like a minor problem.
I grabbed her around the waist and ordered the waves to push us down.
We shot into the depths—ten feet, twenty feet. I knew I had to be careful because I could withstand a lot more pressure than Annabeth. She fought and struggled for breath as bubbles rose around us.
I was desperate. I had to keep Annabeth alive. I imagined all the bubbles in the sea—always churning, rising. I imagined them coming together, being pulled toward me.
The sea obeyed. There was a flurry of white, a tickling sensation all around me, and when my vision cleared, Annabeth and I had a huge bubble of air around us. Only our legs stuck into the water.
She gasped and coughed. Her whole body shuddered, but when she looked at me, I knew the spell had been broken.
She started to sob—I mean horrible, heartbroken sobbing. She put her head on my shoulder and I held her.
Fish gathered to look at us—a school of barracudas, some curious marlins.
Scram! I told them.
They swam off, but I could tell they went reluctantly. I swear I understood their intentions.
They were about to start rumors flying around the sea about the son of Poseidon and some girl at the bottom of Siren Bay.
“I’ll get us back to the ship,” I told her. “It’s okay. Just hang on.”
Annabeth nodded to let me know she was better now, then she murmured something I couldn’t hear because of the wax in my ears.
I made the current steer our weird little air submarine through the rocks and barbed wire and back toward the hull of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which was maintaining a slow and steady course away from the island.
We stayed underwater, following the ship, until I judged we had moved out of earshot of the Sirens. Then I surfaced and our air bubble popped.
I ordered a rope ladder to drop over the side of the ship, and we climbed aboard.
I kept my earplugs in, just to be sure. We sailed until the island was completely out of sight.
Annabeth sat huddled in a blanket on the forward deck. Finally she looked up, dazed and sad, and mouthed, safe.
I took out the earplugs. No singing. The afternoon was quiet except for the sound of the waves against the hull. The fog had burned away to a blue sky, as if the island of the Sirens had never existed.
“You okay?” I asked. The moment I said it, I realized how lame that sounded. Of course she wasn’t okay.
“I didn’t realize,” she murmured.
Her eyes were the same color as the mist over the Sirens’ island. “How powerful the temptation would be.”
I didn’t want to admit that I’d seen what the Sirens had promised her. I felt like a trespasser.
But I figured I owed it to Annabeth.
“I saw the way you rebuilt Manhattan,” I told her. “And Luke and your parents.”
She blushed. “You saw that?”
“What Luke told you back on the Princess Andromeda, about starting the world from scratch … that really got to you, huh?”
She pulled her blanket around her. “My fatal flaw. That’s what the Sirens showed me. My fatal flaw is hubris.”
I blinked. “That brown stuff they spread on veggie sandwiches?”
She rolled her eyes. “No, Seaweed Brain. That’s hummus. Hubris is worse.”
“What could be worse than hummus?”
“Hubris means deadly pride, Percy. Thinking you can do things better than anyone else … even the gods.”
“You feel that way?”
She looked down. “Don’t you ever feel like, what if the world really is messed up? What if we could do it all over again from scratch? No more war. Nobody homeless. No more summer reading homework.”
“I mean, the West represents a lot of the best things mankind ever did—that’s why the fire is still burning. That’s why Olympus is still around. But sometimes you just see the bad stuff, you know? And you start thinking the way Luke does: ‘If I could tear this all down, I would do it better.’
Don’t you ever feel that way? Like you could do a better job if you ran the world?”
“Um … no. Me running the world would kind of be a nightmare.”
“Then you’re lucky. Hubris isn’t your fatal flaw.”
“I don’t know, Percy, but every hero has one. If you don’t find it and learn to control it … well, they don’t call it ‘fatal’ for nothing.”
I thought about that. It didn’t exactly cheer me up.
I also noticed Annabeth hadn’t said much about the personal things she would change—like getting her parents back together, or saving Luke. I understood. I didn’t want to admit how many times I’d dreamed of getting my own parents back together.
I pictured my mom, alone in our little apartment on the Upper East Side. I tried to remember the smell of her blue waffles in the kitchen. It seemed so far away.
“So was it worth it?” I asked Annabeth. “Do you feel … wiser?”
She gazed into the distance. “I’m not sure. But we have to save the camp. If we don’t stop Luke …”
She didn’t need to finish. If Luke’s way of thinking could even tempt Annabeth, there was no telling how many other half-bloods might join him.
I thought about my dream of the girl and the golden sarcophagus. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I got the feeling I was missing something. Something terrible that Kronos was planning.
What had the girl seen when she opened that coffin lid?