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Imagine the largest concert crowd you've ever seen, a football field packed with a million fans. […] Now imagine a field a million times that big, packed with people, and imagine the electricity has gone out, and there is no noise, no light, no beach ball bouncing around over the crowd. Something tragic has happened backstage. (19.1-2)
The Asphodel Fields are HUGE, swampy, and dismal. Black trees are here and there.
In the distance, they can see the Fields of Punishment burning "with rivers of lava and minefields and miles of barbed wire separating the different torture areas" (19.9).
In the other direction, they can see Elysium – a lovely gated community featuring "beautiful houses from every period in history, Roman villas and medieval castles and Victorian mansions" (19.10).
Elysium has a beautiful blue lake, and in the middle of the lake are three islands: The Isles of the Blest, "for people who had chosen to be reborn three times, and three times achieved Elysium" (19.12). That's where heroes retire when they die. It's the place to be in Hades.
Elysium is way less populated than either of the other fields. Percy realizes how few people in the world choose to do good things in their lives.
They continue to walk through the Asphodel Fields for miles.
In the distance is a palace of obsidian towers: Hades's house.
The Furies are flying proud over Hades's house. Gulp.
Then, Grover's magic shoes do something weird: they fly without him telling them to, and they drag him away from Hades's house toward a narrow cave.
The magic shoes are going so fast that Grover can't take them off, and Percy and Annabeth can't help him.
The walls of the tunnel widen into a huge chasm, a pit "the size of a city block" (19.38).
One of the shoes pulls itself free from Grover's foot and zips into the chasm below.
Grover hangs on for dear life, clutching a big rock.
Annabeth and Percy grab Grover and pull him uphill, towards a safer spot.
They are exhausted, and Percy feels like someone has put rocks in his backpack – it is so heavy.
Grover is a bit black and blue.
They hear a faint whispering.
Annabeth realizes that the deep chasm Grover almost got sucked into is the entrance of Tartarus.
Percy unsheathes Riptide, and the whispering pauses for a little bit.
They are super-scared at this point. Tartarus is not a place you want linger.
They walk uphill out of the tunnel completely.
The pit seems to inhale as they climb out of the tunnel, pulling them backwards.
They run for safety.
"Something was not happy we'd gotten away" (19.64).
On their way into Hades's house, they notice the scenes of death carved into his gates, his garden made out of jewels, and Persephone's (his wife) pomegranate garden. They also recognize some of Medusa's handiwork: statues of all kinds of people and animals.
They walk through Hades's palace – everywhere there is black marble and bronze floors.
Skeletons of former soldiers stand guard.
The doors to Hades's throne room swing open, and the three walk right in. Percy's recognizes the room from his dreams.
Then he gets his first look at Hades:
He was the third god I'd met, but the first who really struck me as godlike […] He was at least ten feet tall, for on thing, and dressed in black silk robes and a crown of braided gold. His skin was albino white, his hair shoulder-length and jet black. He wasn't bulked up like Ares, but he radiated power. He lounged on his throne of fused human bones, looking lithe, graceful, and dangerous as a panther. (19.86-87)
Percy calls Hades, "Uncle," and he tells his uncle that he has two requests.
Hades is furious at Percy's arrogance, "You dare keep up this pretense, after what you have done?" (19.101).
Hades clearly thinks that Percy has done something really wrong. Percy asks him what he has done wrong.
Hades tells him that he doesn't want war – he can't afford to have a huge surge in dead people. The Underworld is already way too full of dead people. And they're sucking his wealth dry.
Hades accuses Percy of stealing the master bolt himself in order to help Poseidon start a war. He accuses Percy of stealing his own symbol of power, his helm of darkness.
Hades tells them that if they don't return his helm of darkness, he will stop death and "make your lands a nightmare" (19.124).
Percy tells Hades that they don't have his helm of darkness and that they don't know where it is.
Hades doesn't buy this. He tells Percy that the master bolt is in his backpack, proving that Percy stole the master bolt all along.
Percy opens his backpack to find that this is true – how did the master bolt get there?
Hades tells him to hand both the master bolt and the helm of darkness over.
I realized I'd been played with. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades had been set at each other's throats by someone else. The master bolt had been in the backpack, and I'd gotten the backpack from… (19.142)
Hades tells Percy he knows that that Percy came to the Underworld to barter for his mother.
Hades makes a glowing image of Percy's mom – frozen at the moment the Minotaur seized her – appear.
Hades tells Percy that his mom is not dead, but that if Percy doesn't hand over his helm of darkness, he will kill her.
Percy thinks about the pearls and if they could help his mom get out of the Underworld.
Hades reads his thoughts and tells him to bring out the pearls.
Hades says it's such a shame there are only three pearls – Percy will have to choose who gets a pearl. Will he save his mom and leave one friend behind? Which friend?
Both Annabeth and Grover try to convince Percy at that moment to leave them behind and use their pearl to save their mother.
Percy won't have any of it. He knows what he must do.
Percy hands a pearl to both Grover and Annabeth.
He says goodbye to the glowing image of his mother and promises to come back for her.
The three break their pearls, while the skeleton army attacks them.
The pearls turn into giant bubbles that envelop each of them.
The bubbles are incredibly powerful and strong and carry the three up to the ocean.
They arrive at the surface of Santa Monica Bay.
In the distance, Los Angeles is on fire.
Percy knows that it is the morning of the summer solstice – his deadline. He has to return the thunderbolt to Mount Olympus.
More importantly, he has to have a talk with the god who tricked him.