MY RESCUE OPERATION GOES VERY WRONG
The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school. We picked up my friends Annabeth and Thalia on the way.
It was an eight-hour drive from New York to Bar Harbor, Maine. Sleet and snow pounded the highway. Annabeth, Thalia, and I hadn't seen each other in months, but between the blizzard and the thought of what we were about to do, we were too nervous to talk much. Except for my mom. She talks more when she's nervous. By the time we finally got to Westover Hall, it was getting dark, and she'd told Annabeth and Thalia every embarrassing baby story there was to tell about me.
Thalia wiped the fog off the car window and peered outside. "Oh, yeah. This'll be fun. "
Westover Hall looked like an evil knight's castle. It was all black stone, with towers and slit windows and a big set of wooden double doors. It stood on a snowy cliff overlooking this big frosty forest on one side and the gray churning ocean on the other.
"Are you sure you don't want me to wait?" my mother asked.
"No, thanks, Mom," I said. "I don't know how long it will take. We'll be okay. "
"But how will you get back? I'm worried, Percy. "
I hoped I wasn't blushing. It was bad enough I had to depend on my mom to drive me to my battles.
"It's okay, Ms. Jackson. " Annabeth smiled reassuringly. Her blond hair was tucked into a ski cap and her gray eyes were the same color as the ocean. "We'll keep him out of trouble. "
My mom seemed to relax a little. She thinks Annabeth is the most levelheaded demigod ever to hit eighth grade. She's sure Annabeth often keeps me from getting killed. She's right, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
"All right, dears," my mom said. "Do you have everything you need?"
"Yes, Ms. Jackson," Thalia said. "Thanks for the ride. "
"Extra sweaters? You have my cell phone number?"
"Your ambrosia and nectar, Percy? And a golden drachma in case you need to contact camp?"
"Mom, seriously! We'll be fine. Come on, guys. "
She looked a little hurt, and I was sorry about that, but I was ready to be out of that car. If my mom told one more story about how cute I looked in the bathtub when I was three years old, I was going to burrow into the snow and freeze myself to death.
Annabeth and Thalia followed me outside. The wind blew straight through my coat like ice daggers.
Once my mother's car was out of sight, Thalia said, "Your mom is so cool, Percy. "
"She's pretty okay," I admitted. "What about you? You ever get in touch with your mom?"
As soon as I said it, I wished I hadn't. Thalia was great at giving evil looks, what with the punk clothes she always wears—the ripped-up army jacket, black leather pants and chain jewelry, the black eyeliner and those intense blue eyes. But the look she gave me now was a perfect evil "ten. "
"If that was any of your business, Percy—"
"We'd better get inside," Annabeth interrupted. "Grover will be waiting. "
Thalia looked at the castle and shivered. "You're right. I wonder what he found here that made him send the distress call. "
I stared up at the dark towers of Westover Hall. "Nothing good," I guessed.
The oak doors groaned open, and the three of us stepped into the entry hall in a swirl of snow.
All I could say was, "Whoa. "
The place was huge. The walls were lined with battle flags and weapon displays: antique rifles, battle axes, and a bunch of other stuff. I mean, I knew Westover was a military school and all, but the decorations seemed like overkill. Literally.
My hand went to my pocket, where I kept my lethal ballpoint pen, Riptide. I could already sense something wrong in this place. Something dangerous. Thalia was rubbing her silver bracelet, her favorite magic item. I knew we were thinking the same thing. A fight was coming.
Annabeth started to say, "I wonder where—"
The doors slammed shut behind us.
"Oo-kay," I mumbled. "Guess we'll stay awhile. "
I could hear music echoing from the other end of the hall. It sounded like dance music.
We stashed our overnight bags behind a pillar and started down the hall. We hadn't gone very far when I heard footsteps on the stone floor, and a man and woman marched out of the shadows to intercept us.
They both had short gray hair and black military-style uniforms with red trim. The woman had a wispy mustache, and the guy was clean-shaven, which seemed kind of backward to me. They both walked stiffly, like they had broomsticks taped to their spines.
"Well?" the woman demanded. "What are you doing here?"
"Um…" I realized I hadn't planned for this. I'd been so focused on getting to Grover and finding out what was wrong, I hadn't considered that someone might question three kids sneaking into the school at night. We hadn't talked at all in the car about how we would get inside. I said, "Ma'am, we're just—"
"Ha!" the man snapped, which made me jump. "Visitors are not allowed at the dance! You shall be eee-jected!"
He had an accent—French, maybe. He pronounced his J like in Jacques, He was tall, with a hawkish face. His nostrils flared when he spoke, which made it really hard not to stare up his nose, and his eyes were two different colors—one brown, one blue—like an alley cat's.
I figured he was about to toss us into the snow, but then Thalia stepped forward and did something very weird.
She snapped her fingers. The sound was sharp and loud. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I felt a gust of wind ripple out from her hand, across the room. It washed over all of us, making the banners rustle on the walls.
"Oh, but we're not visitors, sir," Thalia said. "We go to school here. You remember: I'm Thalia. And this is Annabeth and Percy. We're in the eighth grade. "
The male teacher narrowed his two-colored eyes. I didn't know what Thalia was thinking. Now we'd probably get punished for lying and thrown into the snow. But the man seemed to be hesitating.
He looked at his colleague. "Ms. Gottschalk, do you know these students?"
Despite the danger we were in, I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. A teacher named Got Chalk? He had to be kidding.
The woman blinked, like someone had just woken her up from a trance. "I… yes. I believe I do, sir. " She frowned at us. "Annabeth. Thalia. Percy. What are you doing away from the gymnasium?"
Before we could answer, I heard more footsteps, and Grover ran up, breathless. "You made it! You—"
He stopped short when he saw the teachers. "Oh, Mrs. Gottschalk. Dr. Thorn! I, uh—"
"What is it, Mr. Underwood?" said the man. His tone made it clear that he detested Grover. "What do you mean, they made it? These students live here. "
Grover swallowed. "Yes, sir. Of course, Dr. Thorn. I just meant, I'm so glad they made… the punch for the dance! The punch is great. And they made it!"
Dr. Thorn glared at us. I decided one of his eyes had to be fake. The brown one? The blue one? He looked like he wanted to pitch us off the castle's highest tower, but then Mrs. Gottschalk said dreamily, "Yes, the punch is excellent. Now run along, all of you. You are not to leave the gymnasium again!"
We didn't wait to be told twice. We left with a lot of "Yes, ma'ams" and "Yes, sirs" and a couple of salutes, just because it seemed like the thing to do.
Grover hustled us down the hall in the direction of the music.
I could feel the teachers' eyes on my back, but I walked closely to Thalia and asked in a low voice, "How did you do that finger-snap thing?"
"You mean the Mist? Hasn't Chiron shown you how to do that yet?"
An uncomfortable lump formed in my throat. Chiron was our head trainer at camp, but he'd never shown me anything like that. Why had he shown Thalia and not me?
Grover hurried us to a door that had GYM written on the glass. Even with my dyslexia, I could read that much.
"That was close!" Grover said. "Thank the gods you got here!"
Annabeth and Thalia both hugged Grover. I gave him a big high five.
It was good to see him after so many months. He'd gotten a little taller and had sprouted a few more whiskers, but otherwise he looked like he always did when he passed for human—a red cap on his curly brown hair to hide his goat horns, baggy jeans and sneakers with fake feet to hide his furry legs and hooves. He was wearing a black T-shirt that took me a few seconds to read. It said WESTOVER HALL: GRUNT. I wasn't sure whether that was, like, Grover's rank or maybe just the school motto.
"So what's the emergency?" I asked.
Grover took a deep breath. "I found two. "
"Two half-bloods?" Thalia asked, amazed. "Here?"
Finding one half-blood was rare enough. This year, Chiron had put the satyrs on emergency overtime and sent them all over the country, scouring schools from fourth grade through high school for possible recruits. These were desperate times. We were losing campers. We needed all the new fighters we could find. The problem was, there just weren't that many demigods out there.
"A brother and a sister," he said. "They're ten and twelve. I don't know their parentage, but they're strong. We're running out of time, though. I need help. "
One. " Grover looked nervous. "He suspects. I don't think he's positive yet, but this is the last day of term. I'm sure he won't let them leave campus without finding out. It may be our last chance! Every time I try to get close to them, he's always there, blocking me. I don't know what to do!"
Grover looked at Thalia desperately. I tried not to feel upset by that. Used to be, Grover looked to me for answers, but Thalia had seniority. Not just because her dad was Zeus. Thalia had more experience than any of us with fending off monsters in the real world.
"Right," she said. "These half-bloods are at the dance?"
"Then let's dance," Thalia said. "Who's the monster?"
"Oh," Grover said, and looked around nervously. "You just met him. The vice principal, Dr. Thorn. "
Weird thing about military schools: the kids go absolutely nuts when there's a special event and they get to be out of uniform. I guess it's because everything's so strict the rest of the time, they feel like they've got to overcompensate or something.
There were black and red balloons all over the gym floor, and guys were kicking them in each others faces, or trying to strangle each other with the crepe-paper streamers taped to the walls. Girls moved around in football huddles, the way they always do, wearing lots of makeup and spaghetti-strap tops and brightly colored pants and shoes that looked like torture devices. Every once in a while they'd surround some poor guy like a pack of piranhas, shrieking and giggling, and when they finally moved on, the guy would have ribbons in his hair and a bunch of lipstick graffiti all over his face. Some of the older guys looked more like me—uncomfortable, hanging out at the edges of the gym and trying to hide, like any minute they might have to fight for their lives. Of course, in my case, it was true…