I almost didn’t recognize her. She was wearing a sleeveless silk dress like C.C.’s, only white. Her blonde hair was newly washed and combed and braided with gold. Worst of all, she was wearing makeup, which I never thought Annabeth would be caught dead in. I mean, she looked good. Really good. I probably would’ve been tongue-tied if I could’ve said anything except reet, reet, reet. But there was also something totally wrong about it. It just wasn’t Annabeth.
She looked around the room and frowned. ‘Where’s Percy?’
I squealed up a storm, but she didn’t seem to hear me.
C.C. smiled. ‘He’s having one of our treatments, my dear. Not to worry. You look wonderful! What did you think of your tour?’
Annabeth’s eyes brightened. ‘Your library is amazing!’
‘Yes, indeed,’ C.C. said. ‘The best knowledge of the past three millennia. Anything you want to study, anything you want to be, my dear.’
‘Pah!’ C.C. said. ‘You, my dear, have the makings of a sorceress. Like me.’
Annabeth took a step back. ‘A sorceress?’
‘Yes, my dear.’ C.C. held up her hand. A flame appeared in her palm and danced across her fingertips. ‘My mother is Hecate, the goddess of magic. I know a daughter of Athena when I see one. We are not so different, you and I. We both seek knowledge. We both admire greatness. Neither of us needs to stand in the shadow of men.’
‘I-I don’t understand.’
Again, I squealed my best, trying to get Annabeth’s attention, but she either couldn’t hear me or didn’t think the noises were important. Meanwhile, the other guinea pigs were emerging from their hutch to check me out. I didn’t think it was possible for guinea pigs to look mean, but these did. There were half a dozen, with dirty fur and cracked teeth and beady red eyes. They were covered with shavings and smelled like they really had been in here for three hundred years, without getting their cage cleaned.
‘Stay with me,’ C.C. was telling Annabeth. ‘Study with me. You can join our staff, become a sorceress, learn to bend others to your will. You will become immortal!’
‘You are too intelligent, my dear,’ C.C. said. ‘You know better than to trust that silly camp for heroes. How many great female half-blood heroes can you name?’
‘Um, Atalanta, Amelia Earhart –’
‘Bah! Men get all the glory.’ C.C. closed her fist and extinguished the magic flame. ‘The only way to power for women is sorcery. Medea, Calypso, now there were powerful women! And me, of course. The greatest of all.’
‘You … C.C. … Circe!’
‘Yes, my dear.’
Annabeth backed up, and Circe laughed. ‘You need not worry. I mean you no harm.’
‘What have you done to Percy?’
‘Only helped him realize his true form.’
Annabeth scanned the room. Finally she saw the cage, and me scratching at the bars, all the other guinea pigs crowding around me. Her eyes went wide.
‘Forget him,’ Circe said. ‘Join me and learn the ways of sorcery.’
‘Your friend will be well cared for. He’ll be shipped to a wonderful new home on the mainland. The kindergartners will adore him. Meanwhile, you will be wise and powerful. You will have all you ever wanted.’
Annabeth was still staring at me, but she had a dreamy expression on her face. She looked the same way I had when Circe enchanted me into drinking the guinea pig milkshake. I squealed and scratched, trying to warn her to snap out of it, but I was absolutely powerless.
‘Let me think about it,’ Annabeth murmured. ‘Just … give me a minute alone. To say goodbye.’
‘Of course, my dear,’ Circe cooed. ‘One minute. Oh … and so you have absolute privacy…’ She waved her hand and iron bars slammed down over the windows. She swept out of the room and I heard the locks on the door click shut behind her.
The dreamy look melted off Annabeth’s face.
She rushed over to my cage. ‘All right, which one is you?’
I squealed, but so did all the other guinea pigs. Annabeth looked desperate. She scanned the room and spotted the turn-up of my jeans sticking out from under the loom.
She rushed over and rummaged through my pockets.
But instead of bringing out Riptide, she found the bottle of Hermes’s multivitamins and started struggling with the cap.
I wanted to scream at her that this wasn’t the time for taking supplements! She had to draw the sword!
She popped a lemon chewable in her mouth just as the door flew open and Circe came back in, flanked by two of her business-suited attendants.