Percy stood at the helm of the Argo II. Besides him, no one else was on the deck. Everyone was worn out after the Necromanteion-or in Percy and Annabeth's case, Tartarus. They were all crashed on their bunks.
He'd had vivid nightmares about that place only a few minutes ago. They'd seemed so real. He'd come up for a bit of fresh air.
He took a deep breath. Didn't smell like the sea, but it was good enough. Another person stepped out from the hold.
Annabeth was coming up the stairs, and Percy ran to meet her. Truth be told, there wasn't really much need for any sort of guard nowadays. Since the Doors had been freed, they'd experienced quite a shortage of monsters attacking the ship. Usually by now, Leo would have been forcing Percy to sweep Harpies or Stymphalian Birds off the deck, but not a single monster was in sight-unless eagles counted as monsters. Percy never really could tell if the eagles were real eagles, or if they were monsters in disguise. But after going through Tartarus, he was willing to let the question drop.
"Hey." Annabeth said. She hugged him tight, and looked out over the slowly reddening horizon. "Couldn't sleep?"
The Argo II had been driving itself the entire way. Percy assumed that Festus was leading the ship, but he didn't understand Morse code.
"Yeah. Nightmares." Percy replied. "You, too?"
"Yep. We went through Tartarus. Obviously we're going to get nightmares every so then. Look at what it did to Nico."
The sky was illuminated in a golden light. Annabeth sighed. "Finally, after so long in hell, I get to see the sun rise."
Percy didn't object. It was possibly more beautiful than anything he'd ever seen (Except for Annabeth). He was relieved. They'd spent eighteen days in Tartarus, drinking fire to keep alive, killing an army of dark monsters, befriending a titan and a giant, and eating Drakon sandwiches. In retrospect, defeating a whole army of monsters seemed about as hard as spreading peanut butter over bread.
"I wonder when the others are going to come up." Annabeth said. "I'll head back down."
She left, and Percy found that he'd been given a chance to think.
First of all, no monsters since Tartarus. Strange. Second, no Gaea faces since Tartarus. Even weirder. And lastly, no screaming satyrs. Coach Hedge was on the way to Camp Half-Blood. The silence unnerved him a little-he had gotten used to Coach Hedge yelling war calls and singing poorly adapted theme song parodies (they usually had to do with breaking things or killing monsters) before he even woke up.
That was before Tartarus, but still…
The other started to come up onto the deck, still yawning from the day before. Leo was first, and he immediately took control over the helm, allowing Festus some rest. He was followed by Jason, who was being dragged up by Piper, still in his pajamas. Annabeth followed closely behind, and Frank and Hazel took up the rear.
Percy couldn't believe how much Frank had grown since he'd gone into Tartarus. He looked more muscular, and his clothes had grown a little small for him. When they got to the nearest city, Percy was taking Frank shopping.
"So," Leo said, in between bites of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "Do we head straight to the giants, or do we rest first? I mean, I know we've had a hard time recently, with the House of Hades, but we need to know where to go." A note of longing crept into his voice.
There it was again. Leo's longing voice. He'd apparently had it ever since Khione had blown him off the ship, and Percy knew that voice. He always slipped into it whenever he thought of Calypso.
A thought came into his head. I'll ask him later, he thought. No way did that happen to him.
But the story Leo had told the crew (retold by Hazel) was suspiciously close to the one he'd told Camp right when he'd gotten off the raft at Camp Half-Blood and seen the campers burn his shroud.
Shut up, he told his mind.
I like thinking! It yelled back.
Ever since Percy and Annabeth had come up from Tartarus, Percy's mind had been constantly thinking, analyzing. He was afraid that he was becoming more like Annabeth. Now that was a scary thought. Annabeth was amazing, but he couldn't think with all those buzzing noises in there.
Frank replied, "Well, I think we should rest a little. But then again, the giants are tearing down Mount Olympus. We can't just leave it like that. I think we need to rest, but leave soon. That way, we can get rest and we won't be that far behind schedule."
"I think we should jump right into it." Annabeth put in. "I have a feeling that if the giants have just come back, our best shot is to get them as quickly as possible. We've had a good night's rest; that should do. Besides," she added, "I'm not sleepy, and Percy and I have been through Tartarus."
Nobody objected. They'd all slept like they were blocks of wood the night before, and they were now fresh and rested. "You know what?" Frank said. "We should get going."
But Leo wasn't listening. "I've gotten a sample-" he stopped. "Fine." He sighed. "But I doubt we'll win. There isn't a god that's willing to help us, and we're just supposed to march into there and declare war?"
"Look." Annabeth said. "I'm kind of curious to see how the giants are trying to pull down Mount Olympus. Maybe we can't kill the giants, but maybe we can stop them from pulling the original Mount Olympus down."
"Yeah." Leo said. "Maybe. A whole lot of maybe."
Festus suddenly whipped up a bunch of clicks and creaks. Suddenly Leo's face turned serious. "Festus?"
More clicks and creaks.
"You won't like to hear this. As strange as it seems, Festus says we're off course."
"I don't think that's possible." Annabeth frowned. She looked forward. "Isn't that Mount Olympus?" She pointed to a really tall mountain in front of them.
More clicks and creaks.
"Festus says yes, that is Mount Olympus, but no, it isn't. He says we're halfway back to Rome."
"WHAT?" Hazel yelled. She immediately put her hand up in the air, as if sensing for something.
She cursed. "Festus is right. We're travelling the wrong way round."
"Isn't Mount Olympus right in front of us?" Annabeth asked, looking at the huge mountain.
In reply, Hazel concentrated, and a huge fog screen blew away from the Argo II. The ship had sailed for so long they couldn't even see the coastline.
"It's the Mist." Hazel said. "Pasiphaë… I didn't take care of her!" She broke down into tears.
"How right you are, daughter of Pluto." A voice sounded behind Percy. "I am alive and kicking. Your little trick with the Mist didn't work, unfortunately."
"How did you survive?" Hazel said. She stood back up, wiping the tears from her eyes. Percy understood why Hazel had broken down-they had wasted valuable time getting here, and now they had to go back again.
"Oh, it wasn't hard." Pasiphaë said smugly. "You wanted to believe I'd gone down that hole." She snickered. "I made you think that. All this time, I've been warping your minds. In fact, here's where Nico is right now. Unfortunately, he's in a bit of a pickle."
She raised her hand and a ball of fire roared to life. She blew on it, and it transformed into a giant screen.
In the image, Nico was lying on the ground, panting; Reyna was fending off what looked like a giant swarm of hellhounds.
"You fools." Pasiphaë's eyes glowed red. She raised her hand. "And now, you die."
Immediately, Percy Jackson's head roared. His brain filled up with incredible pain, and he fell to the deck.