Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Stolen Chariot, part two

As promised, "Percy Jackson and the Stolen Chariot," part 2, is posted below. I'll post the final part of the story in the next few days. I hope you enjoy!


Percy Jackson and the Stolen Chariot, part 2


We took the subway, keeping a lookout for more attacks, but nothing bothered us. As we rode, Clarisse told me about Phobos and Deimos.

“They’re minor gods,” she said. “Phobos is fear. Deimos is terror.”

“What’s the difference?”

She frowned. “Deimos is bigger and uglier, I guess. He’s good at freaking out entire crowds. Phobos is more, like, personal. He can get inside your head.”

“That’s where they get the word phobia?”

“Yeah,” she grumbled. “He’s so proud of that. All those phobias named after him. The jerk.”

“So why don’t they want you driving the chariot?”

“It’s usually a ritual just for Ares’s sons when they turn fifteen. I’m the first daughter to get a shot in a long time.”

“Good for you.”

“Tell that to Phobos and Deimos. They hate me. I’ve got to get the chariot back to the temple.”

“Where is the temple?”

“Pier 86. The Intrepid.”

“Oh.” It made sense, now that I thought about it. I’d never actually been on board the old aircraft carrier, but I knew they used it as some kind of military museum. It probably had a bunch of guns and bombs and other dangerous toys. Just the kind of place a war god would want to hang out.

“We’ve got maybe four hours before sunset,” I guessed. “That should be enough time if we can find the chariot.”

“But what did Phobos mean, ‘over the water’? We’re on an island, for Zeus’s sake. That could be any direction!”

“He said something about wild animals,” I remembered. “Little wild animals.”

“A zoo?”

I nodded. A zoo over the water could be the one in Brooklyn, or maybe . . . someplace harder to get to, with little wild animals. Some place nobody would ever think to look for a war chariot.

“Staten Island,” I said. “They’ve got a small zoo.”

“Maybe,” Clarisse said. “That sounds like the kind of out-of-the-way place Phobos and Deimos would stash something. But if we’re wrong --”

“We don’t have time to be wrong.”

We hoped off the train at Times Square and caught the 1 downtown toward the ferry terminal.


*


We boarded the Staten Island Ferry at three-thirty, along with a bunch of tourists who crowded the railings of the top deck, snapping pictures as we passed the Statue of Liberty.

“He modeled that after his mom,” I said, looking up at the statue.

Clarisse frowned at me. “Who?”

“Bartholdi,” I said. “The dude who made the Statue of Liberty. He was a son of Athena and he designed it to look like his mom. That’s what Annabeth told me, anyway.”

Clarisse rolled her eyes. Annabeth was my best friend and a huge nut when it came to architecture and monuments. I guess her egghead facts rubbed off on me sometimes.

“Useless,” Clarisse said. “If it doesn’t help you fight, it’s useless information.”

I could’ve argued with her, but just then the ferry lurched like it had hit a rock. Tourists spilled forward, tumbling into each other. Clarisse and I ran to the front of the boat. The water below us started to boil. Then the head of a sea serpent erupted from the bay.

The monster was at least as big as the boat. It was gray and green with a head like a crocodile and razor-sharp teeth. It smelled . . . well, like something that had just come up from the bottom of New York Harbor. Riding on its neck was a bulky guy in black Greek armor. His face was covered with ugly scars and he held a javelin in his hand.

“Deimos!” Clarisse yelled.

“Hello, sister!” His smile was almost as horrible as the serpent’s. “Care to play?”

The monster roared. Tourists screamed and scattered. I don’t know exactly what they saw. The Mist usually prevents mortals from seeing monsters in their true form, but whatever they saw, they were terrified.

“Leave them alone!” I yelled.

“Or what, son of the sea god?” Deimos sneered. “My brother tells me you’re a wimp! Besides, I love terror. I live on terror!”

He spurred the sea serpent into head-butting the ferry, which sloshed backwards. Alarms blared. Passengers fell over each other trying to get away. Deimos laughed with delight.

“That’s it,” I grumbled. “Clarisse, grab on.”

“What?”

“Grab on to my neck. We’re going for a ride.”

She didn’t protest. She grabbed onto me and I said, “One, two, three – JUMP!”

We leaped off the top deck and straight into the bay, but we were only under for a moment. I felt the power of the ocean surging through me. I willed the water to swirl around me, building force, until we burst out of the bay on top of a thirty-foot-high water spout. I steered us straight toward the monster.

“You think you can tackle Deimos?” I yelled to Clarisse.

“I’m on it!” she said. “Just get me within ten feet.”

We barreled toward the serpent. Just as it bared its fangs, I swerved the water spout to one side and Clarisse jumped. She crashed into Deimos and both of them toppled into the sea.

The serpent came after me. I turned the water spout to face him then summoned all my power and willed the water to even greater heights.

WHOOOOM!

Ten thousand gallons of salt water crashed into the monster. I leaped over its head, uncapped Riptide and slashed with all my might at the creature’s neck. The monster roared. Green blood spouted from the wound and the serpent sank beneath the waves.

I dove underwater and watched as it retreated back to the open sea. That’s one good thing about sea serpents. They’re big babies when it comes to getting hurt.

Clarisse surfaced near me, spluttering and coughing. I swam over and grabbed her.

“Did you get Deimos?” I asked.

Clarisse shook her head. “The coward disappeared as we were wrestling. But I’m sure we’ll see him again. Phobos, too.”

Tourists were still running around the ferry in a panic, but it didn’t look like anybody was hurt. The boat didn’t seem damaged. I decided we shouldn’t stick around. I held on to Clarisse’s arm and willed the waves to carry us toward Staten Island.

In the west, the sun was going down over the Jersey shore. We were running out of time.

*

I’d never spent much time on Staten Island, and I found it was a lot bigger than I thought and not much fun to walk. The streets curved around confusingly and everything seemed to be uphill. I was dry (I never got wet in the ocean unless I wanted to) but Clarisse’s clothes were still sopping wet so she left mucky footprints all over the sidewalk and the bus driver wouldn’t let us on the bus.

“We’ll never make it in time,” she sighed.

“Stop thinking that way.” I tried to sound upbeat, but I was starting to have doubts, too. I wished we had reinforcements. Two demigods against two minor gods was not an even match, and when we met Phobos and Deimos together, I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. I kept remembering what Phobos had said, How about you, Percy Jackson? What do you fear? I’ll find out, you know.

After dragging ourselves halfway up the island past a lot of suburban houses and a couple of churches and a McDonalds, we finally saw a sign that said ZOO. We turned the corner and followed this curvy street with some woods on one side until we came to the zoo entrance.
The lady at the ticket booth looked at us suspiciously, but thank the gods I had enough cash to get us inside.

We walked around the reptile house and Clarisse stopped in her tracks.

“There it is.”

It was sitting at a crossroads between the petting zoo and the sea otter pond: a large golden and red chariot tethered to four black horses. The chariot was decorated with amazing detail. It would’ve been beautiful if all the pictures hadn’t shown people dying painful deaths. The horses were breathing fire out of their nostrils.

Families with strollers walked right past the chariot like it didn’t exist. I guess the Mist must’ve been really strong around it, because the chariot’s only camouflage was a handwritten note taped to one of the horses’ chests that said, OFFICIAL ZOO VEHICLE.

“Where are Phobos and Deimos?” Clarisse muttered, drawing her sword.

I couldn’t see them anywhere, but this had to be a trap.

I concentrated on the horses. Usually I could talk to horses, since my dad Poseidon had created them. I said, Hey. Nice fire-breathing horses. Come here!

One of horses whinnied disdainfully. I could understand his thoughts, all right. He called me some names I can’t repeat.

“I’ll try to get the reins,” Clarisse said. “The horses know me. Cover me.”

“Right.” I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to cover her with a sword, but I kept my eyes peeled as Clarisse approached the chariot. She walked around the horses, almost tip-toeing.

She froze as a lady with a three-year-old girl passed by. The girl said, “Pony on fire!”

“Don’t be silly, Jessie,” the mother said in a dazed voice. “That’s an official zoo vehicle.”

The little girl tried to protest but the mother grabbed her hand and they kept walking. Clarisse got closer to the chariot. Her hand was six inches from the rail when the horses reared up, whinnying and breathing flames. Phobos and Deimos appeared in the chariot, both of them now dressed in pitch-black battle armor. Phobos grinned, his red eyes glowing. Deimos’s scared face looked even more horrible up close.

“The hunt is on!” Phobos yelled. Clarisse stumbled back as he lashed the horses and charged the chariot straight toward me.

Now I’d like to tell you that I did something heroic, like stand up against a raging team of fire-breathing horses with only my sword. The truth is, I ran. I jumped over a trash bin and an exhibit fence, but there was no way I could outrun the chariot. It crashed through the fence right behind me, plowing down everything in its path.

“Percy, look out!” Clarisse yelled, like I needed somebody to tell me that.

I jumped and landed on a rock island in the middle of the otter exhibit. I willed a column of water out of the pond and doused the horses, temporarily extinguishing their flames and sending them into confusion. The otters weren’t really happy with me. They chattered and barked and I figured I’d better get off their island quick before I had crazed sea mammals after me, too.

I ran as Phobos cursed and tried to get his horses under control. Clarisse took the opportunity to jump on Deimos’s back just as he was lifting his javelin. Both of them went tumbling out of the chariot as it lurched forward.

I could hear Deimos and Clarisse starting to fight, sword on sword, but I didn’t have time to worry about it because Phobos was riding after me again. I sprinted toward the aquarium with the chariot right behind me.

“Hey, Percy!” Phobos taunted. “I’ve got something for you!”

I glanced back and saw the chariot melting, the horses turning to steel and folding into each other like clay figures being crumpled. The chariot refashioned itself into a black metal box with caterpillar treads and a turret and a long gun barrel. A tank. I recognized it from this research report I had to do for history class. Phobos was grinning at me from the top of a World War II Panzer.

“Say cheese!” he said.

I rolled to one side as the gun fired.

KA-BOOOOM! A souvenir kiosk exploded, sending fuzzy animals and plastic cups and disposable cameras in every direction. As Phobos re-aimed his gun, I got to my feet and dived into the aquarium.

I wanted to surround myself with water. That always increased my power. Besides, it was possible Phobos couldn’t fit the chariot inside the doorway. Of course, if he blasted through it, that wouldn’t help . . .

I ran through the rooms, washed in weird blue light from the fish tank exhibits. Cuttlefish, clown fish, and eels all stared at me as I raced past. I could hear their little minds whispering, Son of the sea god! Son of the sea god! It’s great when you’re a celebrity to squids.

I stopped at the back of the aquarium and listened. I heard nothing. And then . . . Vroom, Vroom. A different kind of engine.

I watched in disbelief as Phobos came riding through the aquarium on a Harley-Davison. I’d seen this motorcycle before: its black flame-decorated engine, its shotgun holsters, its leather seat that looked like human skin. This was the same motorcycle Ares had ridden when I first met him, but it had never occurred to me that it was just another form of his war chariot.

“Hello, loser,” Phobos said, pulling a huge sword out of its sheath. “Time to be scared.”

I raised my own sword, determined to face him, but then Phobos eyes glowed brighter and I made the mistake of looking into them.

Suddenly I was in a different place. I was at Camp Half-Blood, my favorite place in the world, and it was in flames. The woods were on fire. The cabins were smoking. The dining pavilion’s Greek columns had crumbled and the Big House was a smoldering ruin. My friends were on their knees pleading with me. Annabeth, Grover, all the other campers.

Save us, Percy! they wailed. Make the choice!

I stood paralyzed. This was the moment I had always dreaded: the prophecy that was supposed to come about when I was sixteen. I would make a choice that would save or destroy Mount Olympus.

Now the moment was here, and I had no idea what to do. The camp was burning. My friends all looked at me begging for help. My heart pounded. I couldn’t move. What if I did the wrong thing?

Then I heard the voices of the aquarium fish: Son of the sea god! Wake!

Suddenly I felt the power of the ocean all around me again, hundreds of gallons of salt water, thousands of fish trying to get my attention. I wasn’t at camp. This was an illusion. Phobos was showing me my deepest fear.

I blinked, and saw Phobos’s blade coming down toward my head. I raised Riptide and blocked the blow just before it could cut me in two.

I counterattacked and stabbed Phobos in the arm. Golden ichor, the blood of the gods, soaked through his shirt.

Phobos growled and slashed at me. I parried easily. Without his power of fear, Phobos was nothing. He wasn’t even a decent fighter. I pressed him back, swiped at his face and gave him a cut across the cheek. The angrier he got, the clumsier he got. I couldn’t kill him. He was immortal. But you wouldn’t have known that from his expression. The fear god looked afraid.
Finally I kicked him backwards against the water fountain. His sword skittered into the ladies room. I grabbed the straps of his armor and pulled him up to face me.

“You’re going to disappear now,” I told him. “You’re going to stay out of Clarisse’s way. And if I see you again, I’m going to give you a bigger scar in a much more painful place!”

He gulped. “There will be a next time, Jackson!”

And he dissolved into yellow vapor.

I turned toward the fish exhibits. “Thanks, guys.”

Then I looked at Ares’s motorcycle. I’d never ridden an all-powerful Harley-Davison war chariot before, but how hard could it be? I hopped on, started the ignition, and rode out of the aquarium to help Clarisse.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2007 by Rick Riordan. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.