Annabeth shuddered. She’d had her own share of nightmares lately.
“Seven half-bloods must answer the call,” she said. “It needs to be a mix from both our camps. Jason, Piper, Leo, and me. That’s four. ”
“And me,” Percy said. “Along with Hazel and Frank. That’s seven. ”
“What?” Octavian shot to his feet. “We’re just supposed to accept that? Without a vote in the senate? Without a proper debate? Without—”
“Percy!” Tyson the Cyclops bounded toward them with Mrs. O’Leary at his heels. On the hellhound’s back sat the skinniest harpy Annabeth had ever seen—a sickly-looking girl with stringy red hair, a sackcloth dress, and red-feathered wings.
Annabeth didn’t know where the harpy had come from, but her heart warmed to see Tyson in his tattered flannel and denim with the backward SPQR banner across his chest. She’d had some pretty bad experiences with Cyclopes, but Tyson was a sweetheart. He was also Percy’s half brother (long story), which made him almost like family.
Tyson stopped by their couch and wrung his meaty hands. His big brown eye was full of concern. “Ella is scared,” he said.
“N-n-no more boats,” the harpy muttered to herself, picking furiously at her feathers. “Titanic, Lusitania, Pax…boats are not for harpies. ”
Leo squinted. He looked at Hazel, who was seated next to him. “Did that chicken girl just compare my ship to the Titanic?”
“She’s not a chicken. ” Hazel averted her eyes, as if Leo made her nervous. “Ella’s a harpy. She’s just a little…high-strung. ”
“Ella is pretty,” Tyson said. “And scared. We need to take her away, but she will not go on the ship. ”
“No ships,” Ella repeated. She looked straight at Annabeth. “Bad luck. There she is. Wisdom’s daughter walks alone—”
“Ella!” Frank stood suddenly. “Maybe it’s not the best time—”
“The Mark of Athena burns through Rome,” Ella continued, cupping her hands over her ears and raising her voice. “Twins snuff out the angel’s breath, Who holds the key to endless death. Giants’ bane stands gold and pale, Won through pain from a woven jail. ”
The effect was like someone dropping a flash grenade on the table. Everyone stared at the harpy. No one spoke. Annabeth’s heart was pounding. The Mark of Athena…She resisted the urge to check her pocket, but she could feel the silver coin growing warmer—the cursed gift from her mother. Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me.
Around them, the sounds of the feast continued, but muted and distant, as if their little cluster of couches had slipped into a quieter dimension.
Percy was the first to recover. He stood and took Tyson’s arm.
“I know!” he said with feigned enthusiasm. “How about you take Ella to get some fresh air? You and Mrs. O’Leary—”
“Hold on. ” Octavian gripped one of his teddy bears, strangling it with shaking hands. His eyes fixed on Ella. “What was that she said? It sounded like—”
“Ella reads a lot,” Frank blurted out. “We found her at a library. ”
“Yes!” Hazel said. “Probably just something she read in a book. ”
“Books,” Ella muttered helpfully. “Ella likes books. ”
Now that she’d said her piece, the harpy seemed more relaxed. She sat cross-legged on Mrs. O’Leary’s back, preening her wings.
Annabeth gave Percy a curious glance. Obviously, he and Frank and Hazel were hiding something. Just as obviously, Ella had recited a prophecy—a prophecy that concerned her.
Percy’s expression said, Help.
“That was a prophecy,” Octavian insisted. “It sounded like a prophecy. ”
No one answered.
Annabeth wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but she understood that Percy was on the verge of big trouble.
She forced a laugh. “Really, Octavian? Maybe harpies are different here, on the Roman side. Ours have just enough intelligence to clean cabins and cook lunches. Do yours usually foretell the future? Do you consult them for your auguries?”
Her words had the intended effect. The Roman officers laughed nervously. Some sized up Ella, then looked at Octavian and snorted. The idea of a chicken lady issuing prophecies was apparently just as ridiculous to Romans as it was to Greeks.
“I, uh…” Octavian dropped his teddy bear. “No, but—”
“She’s just spouting lines from some book,” Annabeth said, “like Hazel suggested. Besides, we already have a real prophecy to worry about. ”
She turned to Tyson. “Percy’s right. Why don’t you take Ella and Mrs. O’Leary and shadow-travel somewhere for a while. Is Ella okay with that?”
“‘Large dogs are good,’” Ella said. “Old Yeller, 1957, screenplay by Fred Gipson and William Tunberg. ”
Annabeth wasn’t sure how to take that answer, but Percy smiled like the problem was solved.
“Great!” Percy said. “We’ll Iris-message you guys when we’re done and catch up with you later. ”
The Romans looked at Reyna, waiting for her ruling. Annabeth held her breath.
Reyna had an excellent poker face. She studied Ella, but Annabeth couldn’t guess what she was thinking.
“Fine,” the praetor said at last. “Go. ”
“Yay!” Tyson went around the couches and gave everyone a big hug—even Octavian, who didn’t look happy about it. Then he climbed on Mrs. O’Leary’s back with Ella, and the hellhound bounded out of the forum. They dove straight into a shadow on the Senate House wall and disappeared.