Create Account - Sign In
Browse - New Book - My Books - Sell - Groups - $19 ISBNs - Upload / Convert - Help - follow us!   



That night, Annabeth slept without nightmares, which just made her uneasy when she woke up—like the calm before a storm.

Leo docked the ship at a pier in Charleston Harbor, right next to the seawall. Along the shore was a historical district with tall mansions, palm trees, and wrought-iron fences. Antique cannons pointed at the water.

By the time Annabeth came up on deck, Jason, Frank, and Leo had already left for the museum. According to Coach Hedge, they’d promised to be back by sunset. Piper and Hazel were ready to go, but first Annabeth turned to Percy, who was leaning on the starboard rail, gazing over the bay.

Annabeth took his hand. “What are you going to do while we’re gone?”

“Jump into the harbor,” he said casually, like another kid might say, I’m going to get a snack. “I want to try communicating with the local Nereids. Maybe they can give me some advice about how to free those captives in Atlanta. Besides, I think the sea might be good for me. Being in that aquarium made me feel…unclean.”

His hair was dark and tangled as usual, but Annabeth thought about the streak of gray he used to have on one side. When the two of them were fourteen, they’d taken turns (unwillingly) holding the weight of the sky. The strain left them both with some gray hair. Over the last year, while Percy had been missing, the gray streaks had finally disappeared from both of them, which made Annabeth sad and a little worried. She felt like she’d lost a symbolic bond with Percy.

Annabeth kissed him. “Good luck, Seaweed Brain. Just come back to me, okay?”

“I will,” he promised. “You do the same.”

Annabeth tried to push down her growing unease.

She turned to Piper and Hazel. “Okay, ladies. Let’s find the ghost of the Battery.”

 

Afterward, Annabeth wished she’d jumped into the harbor with Percy. She even would’ve preferred a museum full of ghosts.

Not that she minded hanging out with Hazel and Piper. At first, they had a pretty good time walking along the Battery. According to the signs, the seaside park was called White Point Gardens. The ocean breeze swept away the muggy heat of the summer afternoon, and it was pleasantly cool under the shade of the palmetto trees. Lining the road were old Civil War cannons and bronze statues of historical figures, which made Annabeth shudder. She thought about the statues in New York City during the Titan War, which had come to life thanks to Daedalus’s command sequence twenty-three. She wondered how many other statues around the country were secretly automatons, waiting to be triggered.

Charleston Harbor glittered in the sun. To the north and south, strips of land stretched out like arms enclosing the bay, and sitting in the mouth of the harbor, about a mile out, was an island with a stone fort. Annabeth had a vague memory of that fort being important in the Civil War, but she didn’t spend much time thinking about it.

Mostly she breathed in the sea air and thought about Percy. Gods forbid she ever had to break up with him. She’d never be able to visit the sea again without remembering her broken heart. She was relieved when they turned away from the seawall and explored the inland side of the gardens.

The park wasn’t crowded. Annabeth imagined that most of the locals had gone on summer vacation, or were holed up at home taking a siesta. They strolled along South Battery Street, which was lined with four-story Colonial mansions. The brick walls were blanketed with ivy. The facades had soaring white columns like Roman temples. The front gardens were bursting with rosebushes, honeysuckle, and flowering bougainvillea. It looked like Demeter had set the timer on all the plants to grow several decades ago, then forgotten to come back and check on them.

“Kind of reminds me of New Rome,” Hazel said. “All the big mansions and the gardens. The columns and arches.”

Annabeth nodded. She remembered reading how the American South had often compared itself to Rome back before the Civil War. In the old days their society had been all about impressive architecture, honor, and codes of chivalry. And on the evil side, it had also been about slavery. Rome had slaves, some Southerners had argued, so why shouldn’t we?

Annabeth shivered. She loved the architecture here. The houses and the gardens were very beautiful, very Roman. But she wondered why beautiful things had to be wrapped up with evil history. Or was it the other way around? Maybe the evil history made it necessary to build beautiful things, to mask the darker aspects.

She shook her head. Percy would hate her getting so philosophical. If she tried to talk to him about stuff like that, his eyes glazed over.

The other girls didn’t say much.

Piper kept looking around like she expected an ambush. She had said she’d seen this park in the blade of her knife, but she wouldn’t elaborate. Annabeth guessed she was afraid to. After all, the last time Piper had tried to interpret a vision from her knife, Percy and Jason had almost killed each other in Kansas.

Hazel also seemed preoccupied. Maybe she was taking in their surroundings, or maybe she was worrying about her brother. In less than four days, unless they found him and freed him, Nico would be dead.

Annabeth felt that deadline weighing on her, too. She’d always had mixed feelings about Nico di Angelo. She suspected that he’d had a crush on her ever since they rescued him and his big sister Bianca from that military academy in Maine; but Annabeth had never felt any attraction to Nico. He was too young and too moody. There was a darkness in him that made her uneasy.

Still, she felt responsible for him. Back when they had met, neither of them had known about his half sister, Hazel. At the time, Bianca had been Nico’s only living family. When she had died, Nico became a homeless orphan, drifting through the world alone. Annabeth could relate to that.

She was so deep in thought, she might have kept walking around the park forever, but Piper grabbed her arm.

“There.” She pointed across the harbor. A hundred yards out, a shimmering white figure floated on the water. At first, Annabeth thought it might be a buoy or a small boat reflecting the sunlight, but it was definitely glowing, and it was moving more smoothly than a boat, making a straight line toward them. As it got closer, Annabeth could tell it was the figure of a woman.

“The ghost,” she said.

“That’s not a ghost,” Hazel said. “No kind of spirit glows that brightly.”

Annabeth decided to take her word for it. She couldn’t imagine being Hazel, dying at such a young age and coming back from the Underworld, knowing more about the dead than the living.

As if in a trance, Piper walked across the street toward the edge of the seawall, narrowly avoiding a horse-drawn carriage.

“Piper!” Annabeth called.

“We’d better follow her,” Hazel said.

By the time Annabeth and Hazel caught up to her, the ghostly apparition was only a few yards away.

Piper glared at it like the sight offended her.

“It is her,” she grumbled.

Annabeth squinted at the ghost, but it blazed too brightly to make out details. Then the apparition floated up the seawall and stopped in front of them. The glow faded.

Annabeth gasped. The woman was breathtakingly beautiful and strangely familiar. Her face was hard to describe. Her features seemed to shift from those of one glamorous movie star to another. Her eyes sparkled playfully—sometimes green or blue or amber. Her hair changed from long, straight blond to dark chocolatey curls.

Annabeth was instantly jealous. She’d always wished she had dark hair. She felt like nobody took her seriously as a blonde. She had to work twice as hard to get recognition as a strategist, an architect, a senior counselor—anything that had to do with brains.

The woman was dressed like a Southern belle, just as Jason had described. Her gown had a low-cut bodice of pink silk and a three-tiered hoop skirt with white scalloped lace. She wore tall white silk gloves, and held a feathered pink-and-white fan to her chest.

Everything about her seemed calculated to make Annabeth feel inadequate: the easy grace with which she wore her dress, the perfect yet understated makeup, the way she radiated feminine charm that no man could possibly resist.

Annabeth realized that her jealousy was irrational. The woman was making her feel this way. She’d had this experience before. She recognized this woman, even though her face changed by the second, becoming more and more beautiful.

“Aphrodite,” she said.

“Venus?” Hazel asked in amazement.

“Mom,” Piper said, with no enthusiasm.

“Girls!” The goddess spread her arms like she wanted a group hug.

The three demigods did not oblige. Hazel backed into a palmetto tree.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Aphrodite said. “War is coming. Bloodshed is inevitable. So there’s really only one thing to do.”

“Uh…and that is?” Annabeth ventured.

“Why, have tea and chat, obviously. Come with me!”

 

Aphrodite knew how to do tea.

She led them to the central pavilion in the gardens—a white-pillared gazebo, where a table was set with silverware, china cups, and of course a steaming pot of tea, the fragrance shifting as easily as Aphrodite’s appearance—sometimes cinnamon, or jasmine, or mint. There were plates of scones, cookies, and muffins, fresh butter and jam—all of which, Annabeth figured, were incredibly fattening; unless, of course, you were the immortal goddess of love.

Aphrodite sat—or held court, rather—in a wicker peacock chair. She poured tea and served cakes without getting a speck on her clothes, her posture always perfect, her smile dazzling.

Annabeth hated her more and more the longer they sat.

“Oh, my sweet girls,” the goddess said. “I do love Charleston! The weddings I’ve attended in this gazebo—they bring tears to my eyes. And the elegant balls in the days of the Old South. Ah, they were lovely. Many of these mansions still have statues of me in their gardens, though they called me Venus.”

“Which are you?” Annabeth asked. “Venus or Aphrodite?”

The goddess sipped her tea. Her eyes sparkled mischievously. “Annabeth Chase, you’ve grown into quite a beautiful young lady. You really should do something with your hair, though. And, Hazel Levesque, your clothes—”

“My clothes?” Hazel looked down at her rumpled denim, not self-consciously, but baffled, as if she couldn’t imagine what was wrong with them.

“Mother!” Piper said. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“Well, I don’t see why,” the goddess said. “Just because you don’t appreciate my fashion tips, Piper, doesn’t mean the others won’t. I could do a quick makeover for Annabeth and Hazel, perhaps silk ball gowns like mine—”

“Mother!”

“Fine,” Aphrodite sighed. “To answer your question, Annabeth, I am both Aphrodite and Venus. Unlike many of my fellow Olympians, I changed hardly at all from one age to the other. In fact, I like to think I haven’t aged a bit!” Her fingers fluttered around her face appreciatively. “Love is love, after all, whether you’re Greek or Roman. This civil war won’t affect me as much as it will the others.”

Wonderful, Annabeth thought. Her own mother, the most levelheaded Olympian, was reduced to a raving, vicious scatterbrain in a subway station. And of all the gods who might help them, the only ones not affected by the Greek–Roman schism seemed to be Aphrodite, Nemesis, and Dionysus. Love, revenge, wine. Very helpful.

Hazel nibbled a sugar cookie. “We’re not in a war yet, my lady.”

“Oh, dear Hazel.” Aphrodite folded her fan. “Such optimism, yet you have heartrending days ahead of you. Of course war is coming. Love and war always go together. They are the peaks of human emotion! Evil and good, beauty and ugliness.”

She smiled at Annabeth as if she knew what Annabeth had been thinking earlier about the Old South.

Hazel set down her sugar cookie. She had a few crumbs on her chin, and Annabeth liked the fact that Hazel either didn’t know or didn’t care.

“What do you mean,” Hazel asked, “heartrending days?”

The goddess laughed as if Hazel were a cute puppy. “Well, Annabeth could give you some idea. I once promised to make her love life interesting. And didn’t I?”

Annabeth almost snapped the handle off her teacup. For years, her heart had been torn. First there was Luke Castellan, her first crush, who had seen her only as a little sister; then he’d turned evil and decided he liked her—right before he died. Next came Percy, who was infuriating but sweet, yet he had seemed to be falling for another girl named Rachel, and then he almost died, several times. Finally Annabeth had gotten Percy to herself, only to have him vanish for six months and lose his memory.

“Interesting,” Annabeth said, “is a mild way of putting it.”

“Well, I can’t take credit for all your troubles,” the goddess said. “But I do love twists and turns in a love story. Oh, all of you are such excellent stories—I mean, girls. You do me proud!”

“Mother,” Piper said, “is there a reason you’re here?”

“Hmm? Oh, you mean besides the tea? I often come here. I love the view, the food, the atmosphere—you can just smell the romance and heartbreak in the air, can’t you? Centuries of it.”

She pointed to a nearby mansion. “Do you see that rooftop balcony? We had a party there the night the American Civil War began. The shelling of Fort Sumter.”

“That’s it,” Annabeth remembered. “The island in the harbor. That’s where the first fighting of the Civil War happened. The Confederates shelled the Union troops and took the fort.”

“Oh, such a party!” Aphrodite said. “A string quartet, and all the men in their elegant new officers’ uniforms. The women’s dresses—you should’ve seen them! I danced with Ares—or was he Mars? I’m afraid I was a little giddy. And the beautiful bursts of light across the harbor, the roar of the cannons giving the men an excuse to put their arms around their frightened sweethearts!”

Annabeth’s tea was cold. She hadn’t eaten anything, but she felt like she wanted to throw up. “You’re talking about the beginning of the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Over six hundred thousand people died—more Americans than in World War One and World War Two combined.”

“And the refreshments!” Aphrodite continued. “Ah, they were divine. General Beauregard himself made an appearance. He was such a scoundrel. He was on his second wife, then, but you should have seen the way he looked at Lisbeth Cooper—”

“Mother!” Piper tossed her scone to the pigeons.

“Yes, sorry,” the goddess said. “To make the story short, I’m here to help you, girls. I doubt you’ll be seeing Hera much. Your little quest has hardly made her welcome in the throne room. And the other gods are rather indisposed, as you know, torn between their Roman and Greek sides. Some more than others.” Aphrodite fixed her gaze on Annabeth. “I suppose you’ve told your friends about your falling-out with your mother?”

Heat rose to Annabeth’s cheeks. Hazel and Piper looked at her curiously.

“Falling-out?” Hazel asked.

“An argument,” Annabeth said. “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing!” the goddess said. “Well, I don’t know about that. Athena was the most Greek of all goddesses. The patron of Athens, after all. When the Romans took over…oh, they adopted Athena after a fashion. She became Minerva, the goddess of crafts and cleverness. But the Romans had other war gods who were more to their taste, more reliably Roman—like Bellona—”

“Reyna’s mom,” Piper muttered.

“Yes, indeed,” the goddess agreed. “I had a lovely talk with Reyna a while back, right here in the park. And the Romans had Mars, of course. And later, there was Mithras—not even properly Greek or Roman, but the legionnaires were crazy about his cult. I always found him crass and terribly nouveau dieu, personally. At any rate, the Romans quite sidelined poor Athena. They took away most of her military importance. The Greeks never forgave the Romans for that insult. Neither did Athena.”

Annabeth’s ears buzzed.

“The Mark of Athena,” she said. “It leads to a statue, doesn’t it? It leads to…to the statue.”

Aphrodite smiled. “You are clever, like your mother. Understand, though, your siblings, the children of Athena, have been searching for centuries. None has succeeded in recovering the statue. In the meantime, they’ve been keeping alive the Greek feud with the Romans. Every civil war…so much bloodshed and heartbreak…has been orchestrated largely by Athena’s children.”

“That’s…” Annabeth wanted to say impossible, but she remembered Athena’s bitter words in Grand Central Station, the burning hatred in her eyes.

“Romantic?” Aphrodite offered. “Yes, I supposed it is.”

“But…” Annabeth tried to clear the fog from her brain. “The Mark of Athena, how does it work? Is it a series of clues, or a trail set by Athena—”

“Hmm.” Aphrodite looked politely bored. “I couldn’t say. I don’t believe Athena created the Mark consciously. If she knew where her statue was, she’d simply tell you where to find it. No…I’d guess the Mark is more like a spiritual trail of bread crumbs. It’s a connection between the statue and the children of the goddess. The statue wants to be found, you see, but it can only be freed by the most worthy.”

“And for thousands of years,” Annabeth said, “no one has managed.”

“Hold on,” Piper said. “What statue are we talking about?”

The goddess laughed. “Oh, I’m sure Annabeth can fill you in. At any rate, the clue you need is close by: a map of sorts, left by the children of Athena in 1861—a remembrance that will start you on your path, once you reach Rome. But as you said, Annabeth Chase, no one has ever succeeded in following the Mark of Athena to its end. There you will face your worst fear—the fear of every child of Athena. And even if you survive, how will you use your reward? For war or for peace?”

Annabeth was glad for the tablecloth, because under the table, her legs were trembling. “This map,” she said, “where is it?”

“Guys!” Hazel pointed to the sky.

Circling above the palmetto trees were two large eagles. Higher up, descending rapidly, was a flying chariot pulled by pegasi. Apparently Leo’s diversion with Buford the end table hadn’t worked—at least not for long.

Aphrodite spread butter on a muffin as if she had all the time in the world. “Oh, the map is at Fort Sumter, of course.” She pointed her butter knife toward the island across the harbor. “It looks like the Romans have arrived to cut you off. I’d get back to your ship in a hurry if I were you. Would you care for some tea cakes to go?”

 



two page view?



Share "Heroes of Olympus, the , Book Three: The Mark of Athena":

Download for all devices (1.17 MB)