The Lightning Thief
Campers came from the other cabins, too, except for the three empty cabins at the end, and cabin eight, which had looked normal in the daytime, but was now starting to glow silver as the sun went down.
    We marched up the hill to the mess hall pavilion. Satyrs joined us from the meadow. Naiads emerged from the canoeing lake. A few other girls came out of the woods— and when I say out of the woods, I mean straight out of the woods. I saw one girl, about nine or ten years old, melt from the side of a maple tree and come skipping up the hill.
    In all, there were maybe a hundred campers, a few dozen satyrs, and a dozen assorted wood nymphs and naiads.
    At the pavilion, torches blazed around the marble columns. A central fire burned in a bronze brazier the size of a bathtub. Each cabin had its own table, covered in white cloth trimmed in purple. Four of the tables were empty, but cabin eleven’s was way overcrowded. I had to squeeze on to the edge of a bench with half my butt hanging off.
    I saw Grover sitting at table twelve with Mr. D, a few satyrs, and a couple of plump blond boys who looked just like Mr. D. Chiron stood to one side, the picnic table being way too small for a centaur.
    Annabeth sat at table six with a bunch of serious-looking athletic kids, all with her gray eyes and honey-blond hair.
    Clarisse sat behind me at Ares’s table. She’d apparently gotten over being hosed down, because she was laughing and belching right alongside her friends.
    Finally, Chiron pounded his hoof against the marble floor of the pavilion, and everybody fell silent. He raised a glass. “To the gods!”
    Everybody else raised their glasses. “To the gods!”
    Wood nymphs came forward with platters of food: grapes, apples, strawberries, cheese, fresh bread, and yes, barbecue! My glass was empty, but Luke said, “Speak to it. Whatever you want—nonalcoholic, of course.”
    I said, “Cherry Coke.”
    The glass filled with sparkling caramel liquid.
    Then I had an idea. “ Blue Cherry Coke.”
    The soda turned a violent shade of cobalt.
    I took a cautious sip. Perfect.
    I drank a toast to my mother.
    She’s not gone, I told myself. Not permanently, anyway. She’s in the Underworld. And if that’s a real place, then someday . . .
    “Here you go, Percy,” Luke said, handing me a platter of smoked brisket.
    I loaded my plate and was about to take a big bite when I noticed everybody getting up, carrying their plates toward the fire in the center of the pavilion. I wondered if they were going for dessert or something.
    “Come on,” Luke told me.
    As I got closer, I saw that everyone was taking a portion of their meal and dropping it into the fire, the ripest strawberry, the juiciest slice of beef, the warmest, most buttery roll.
    Luke murmured in my ear, “Burnt offerings for the gods. They like the smell.”
    “You’re kidding.”
    His look warned me not to take this lightly, but I couldn’t help wondering why an immortal, all-powerful being would like the smell of burning food.
    Luke approached the fire, bowed his head, and tossed in a cluster of fat red grapes. “Hermes.”
    I was next.
    I wished I knew what god’s name to say.
    Finally, I made a silent plea. Whoever you are, tell me. Please.
    I scraped a big slice of brisket into the flames.
    When I caught a whiff of the smoke, I didn’t gag.
    It smelled nothing like burning food. It smelled of hot chocolate and fresh-baked brownies, hamburgers on the grill and wildflowers, and a hundred other good things that shouldn’t have gone well together, but did. I could almost believe the gods could live off that smoke.
    When everybody had returned to their seats and finished eating their meals, Chiron pounded his hoof again for our attention.
    Mr. D got up with a huge sigh. “Yes, I suppose I’d better say hello to all you brats. Well, hello. Our activities director, Chiron, says the next capture the flag is Friday. Cabin five presently holds the laurels.”
    A bunch of ugly

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