Main The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5)
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This is my 4th time reading the PJO series
I love it so much??
I love it so much??
04 April 2021 (02:52)
Mix the feeling of watching avengers infinite war and end game, that's what you are going to
get when you read this.
get when you read this.
27 April 2021 (05:46)
ONE [image: ] I GO CRUISING WITH EXPLOSIVES The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car. Up until then, I was having a great afternoon. Technically I wasn’t supposed to be driving because I wouldn’t turn sixteen for another week, but my mom and my stepdad, Paul, took my friend Rachel and me to this private stretch of beach on the South Shore, and Paul let us borrow his Prius for a short spin. Now, I know you’re thinking, Wow, that was really irresponsible of him, blah, blah, blah, but Paul knows me pretty well. He’s seen me slice up demons and leap out of exploding school buildings, so he probably figured taking a car a few hundred yards wasn’t exactly the most dangerous thing I’d ever done. Anyway, Rachel and I were driving along. It was a hot August day. Rachel’s red hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore a white blouse over her swimsuit. I’d never seen her in anything but ratty T-shirts and paint-splattered jeans before, and she looked like a million golden drachma. “Oh, pull up right there!” she told me. We parked on a ridge overlooking the Atlantic. The sea is always one of my favorite places, but today it was especially nice—glittery green and smooth as glass, like my dad was keeping it calm just for us. My dad, by the way, is Poseidon. He can do stuff like that. “So.” Rachel smiled at me. “About that invitation.” “Oh . . . right.” I tried to sound excited. I mean, she’d asked me to her family’s vacation house on St. Thomas for three days. I didn’t get a lot of offers like that. My family’s idea of a fancy vacation was a weekend in a rundown cabin on Long Island with some movie rentals and a couple of frozen pizzas, and here Rachel’s folks were willing to let me tag along to the Caribbean. Besides, I seriously needed a vacation. This summer had been the hardest of my life. The idea of taking a break even for a few days was really tempting. Still, something big was supposed to go ; down any day now. I was “on call” for a mission. Even worse, next week was my birthday. There was this prophecy that said when I turned sixteen, bad things would happen. “Percy,” she said, “I know the timing is bad. But it’s always bad for you, right?” She had a point. “I really want to go,” I promised. “It’s just—” “The war.” I nodded. I didn’t like talking about it, but Rachel knew. Unlike most mortals, she could see through the Mist—the magic veil that distorts human vision. She’d seen monsters. She’d met some of the other demigods who were fighting the Titans and their allies. She’d even been there last summer when the chopped-up Lord Kronos rose out of his coffin in a terrible new form, and she’d earned my permanent respect by nailing him in the eye with a blue plastic hairbrush. She put her hand on my arm. “Just think about it, okay? We don’t leave for a couple of days. My dad . . .” Her voice faltered. “Is he giving you a hard time?” I asked. Rachel shook her head in disgust. “He’s trying to be nice to me, which is almost worse. He wants me to go to Clarion Ladies Academy in the fall.” “The school where your mom went?” “It’s a stupid finishing school for society girls, all the way in New Hampshire. Can you see me in finishing school?” I admitted the idea sounded pretty dumb. Rachel was into urban art projects and feeding the homeless and going to protest rallies to “Save the Endangered Yellow-bellied Sapsucker” and stuff like that. I’d never even seen her wear a dress. It was hard to imagine her learning to be a socialite. She sighed. “He thinks if he does a bunch of nice stuff for me, I’ll feel guilty and give in.” “Which is why he agreed to let me come with you guys on vacation?” “Yes . . . but Percy, you’d be doing me a huge favor. It would be so much better if you were with us. Besides, there’s something I want to talk—” She stopped abruptly. “Something you want to talk about?” I asked. “You mean . . . so serious we’d have to go to St. Thomas to talk about it?” She pursed her lips. “Look, just forget it for now. Let’s pretend we’re a couple of normal people. We’re out for a drive, and we’re watching the ocean, and it’s nice to be together.” I could tell something was bothering her, but she put on a brave smile. The sunlight made her hair look like fire. We’d spent a lot of time together this summer. I hadn’t exactly planned it that way, but the more serious things got at camp, the more I found myself needing to call up Rachel and get away, just for some breathing room. I needed to remind myself that the mortal world was still out there, away from all the monsters using me as their personal punching bag. “Okay,” I said. “Just a normal afternoon and two normal people.” She nodded. “And so . . . hypothetically, if these two people liked each other, what would it take to get the stupid guy to kiss the girl, huh?” “Oh . . .” I felt like one of Apollo’s sacred cows—slow, dumb, and bright red. “Um . . .” I can’t pretend I hadn’t thought about Rachel. She was so much easier to be around than . . . well, than some other girls I knew. I didn’t have to work hard, or watch what I said, or rack my brain trying to figure out what she was thinking. Rachel didn’t hide much. She let you know how she felt. I’m not sure what I would’ve done, but I was so distracted, I didn’t notice the huge black form swooping down from the sky until four hooves landed on the hood of the Prius with a WUMP-WUMP-CRUNCH! Hey, boss, a voice said in my head. Nice car! Blackjack the pegasus was an old friend of mine, so I tried not to get too annoyed by the craters he’d just put in the hood; but I didn’t think my stepdad would be real stoked. “Blackjack,” I sighed. “What are you—” Then I saw who was riding on his back, and I knew my day was about to get a lot more complicated. “’Sup, Percy.” Charles Beckendorf, senior counselor for the Hephaestus cabin, would make most monsters cry for their mommies. He was this huge African American guy with ripped muscles from working in the forges every summer. He was two years older than me, and one of the camp’s best armorsmiths. He made some seriously ingenious mechanical stuff. A month before, he’d rigged a Greek firebomb in the bathroom of a tour bus that was carrying a bunch of monsters across country. The explosion took out a whole legion of Kronos’s evil meanies as soon as the first harpy went flush. Beckendorf was dressed for combat. He wore a bronze breastplate and war helm with black camo pants and a sword strapped to his side. His explosives bag was slung over his shoulder. “Time?” I asked. He nodded grimly. A clump formed in my throat. I’d known this was coming. We’d been planning it for weeks, but I’d half hoped it would never happen. Rachel looked up at Beckendorf. “Hi.” “Oh, hey. I’m Beckendorf. You must be Rachel. Percy’s told me . . . uh, I mean he mentioned you.” Rachel raised an eyebrow. “Really? Good.” She glanced at Blackjack, who was clopping his hooves against the hood of the Prius. “So I guess you guys have to go save the world now.” “Pretty much,” Beckendorf agreed. I looked at Rachel helplessly. “Would you tell my mom—” “I’ll tell her. I’m sure she’s used to it. And I’ll explain to Paul about the hood.” I nodded my thanks. I figured this might be the last time Paul loaned me his car. “Good luck.” Rachel kissed me before I could even react. “Now, get going, half-blood. Go kill some monsters for me.” My last view of her was sitting in the shotgun seat of the Prius, her arms crossed, watching as Blackjack circled higher and higher, carrying Beckendorf and me into the sky. I wondered what Rachel wanted to talk to me about, and whether I’d live long enough to find out. “So,” Beckendorf said, “I’m guessing you don’t want me to mention that little scene to Annabeth.” “Oh, gods,” I muttered. “Don’t even think about it.” Beckendorf chuckled, and together we soared out over the Atlantic. It was almost dark by the time we spotted our target. The Princess Andromeda glowed on the horizon—a huge cruise ship lit up yellow and white. From a distance, you’d think it was just a party ship, not the headquarters for the Titan lord. Then as you got closer, you might notice the giant masthead—a dark-haired maiden in a Greek chiton, wrapped in chains with a look of horror on her face, as if she could smell the stench of all the monsters she was being forced to carry. Seeing the ship again twisted my gut into knots. I’d almost died twice on the Princess Andromeda. Now it was heading straight for New York. “You know what to do?” Beckendorf yelled over the wind. I nodded. We’d done dry runs at the dockyards in New Jersey, using abandoned ships as our targets. I knew how little time we would have. But I also knew this was our best chance to end Kronos’s invasion before it ever started. “Blackjack,” I said, “set us down on the lowest stern deck.” Gotcha, boss, he said. Man, I hate seeing that boat. Three years ago, Blackjack had been enslaved on the Princess Andromeda until he’d escaped with a little help from my friends and me. I figured he’d rather have his mane braided like My Little Pony than be back here again. “Don’t wait for us,” I told him. But, boss— “Trust me,” I said. “We’ll get out by ourselves.” Blackjack folded his wings and plummeted toward the boat like a black comet. The wind whistled in my ears. I saw monsters patrolling the upper decks of the ship—dracaenae snake-women, hellhounds, giants, and the humanoid seal-demons known as telkhines—but we zipped by so fast, none of them raised the alarm. We shot down the stern of the boat, and Blackjack spread his wings, lightly coming to a landing on the lowest deck. I climbed off, feeling queasy. Good luck, boss, Blackjack said. Don’t let ’em turn you into horse meat! With that, my old friend flew off into the night. I took my pen out of my pocket, uncapped it, and Riptide sprang to full size—three feet of deadly Celestial bronze glowing in the dusk. Beckendorf pulled a piece of paper of out his pocket. I thought it was a map or something. Then I realized it was a photograph. He stared at it in the dim light—the smiling face of Silena Beauregard, daughter of Aphrodite. They’d started going out last summer, after years of the rest of us saying, “Duh, you guys like each other!” Even with all the dangerous missions, Beckendorf had been happier this summer than I’d ever seen him. “We’ll make it back to camp,” I promised. For a second I saw worry in his eyes. Then he put on his old confident smile. “You bet,” he said. “Let’s go blow Kronos back into a million pieces.” Beckendorf led the way. We followed a narrow corridor to the service stairwell, just like we’d practiced, but we froze when we heard noises above us. “I don’t care what your nose says!” snarled a half-human, half-dog voice—a telkhine. “The last time you smelled half-blood, it turned out to be a meat loaf sandwich!” “Meat loaf sandwiches are good!” a second voice snarled. “But this is half-blood scent, I swear. They are on board!” “Bah, your brain isn’t on board!” They continued to argue, and Beckendorf pointed downstairs. We descended as quietly as we could. Two floors down, the voices of the telkhines started to fade. Finally we came to a metal hatch. Beckendorf mouthed the words engine room. It was locked, but Beckendorf pulled some chain cutters out of his bag and split the bolt like it was made of butter. Inside, a row of yellow turbines the size of grain silos churned and hummed. Pressure gauges and computer terminals lined the opposite wall. A telkhine was hunched over a console, but he was so involved with his work, he didn’t notice us. He was about five feet tall, with slick black seal fur and stubby little feet. He had the head of a Doberman, but his clawed hands were almost human. He growled and muttered as he tapped on his keyboard. Maybe he was messaging his friends on uglyface.com. I stepped forward, and he tensed, probably smelling something was wrong. He leaped sideways toward a big red alarm button, but I blocked his path. He hissed and lunged at me, but one slice of Riptide, and he exploded into dust. “One down,” Beckendorf said. “About five thousand to go.” He tossed me a jar of thick green liquid—Greek fire, one of the most dangerous magical substances in the world. Then he threw me another essential tool of demigod heroes—duct tape. “Slap that one on the console,” he said. “I’ll get the turbines.” We went to work. The room was hot and humid, and in no time we were drenched in sweat. The boat kept chugging along. Being the son of Poseidon and all, I have perfect bearings at sea. Don’t ask me how, but I could tell we were at 40.19° North, 71.90° West, making eighteen knots, which meant the ship would arrive in New York Harbor by dawn. This would be our only chance to stop it. I had just attached a second jar of Greek fire to the control panels when I heard the pounding of feet on metal steps—so many creatures coming down the stairwell I could hear them over the engines. Not a good sign. I locked eyes with Beckendorf. “How much longer?” “Too long.” He tapped his watch, which was our remote control detonator. “I still have to wire the receiver and prime the charges. Ten more minutes at least.” Judging from the sound of the footsteps, we had about ten seconds. “I’ll distract them,” I said. “Meet you at the rendezvous point.” “Percy—” “Wish me luck.” He looked like he wanted to argue. The whole idea had been to get in and out without being spotted. But we were going to have to improvise. “Good luck,” he said. I charged out the door. A half dozen telkhines were tromping down the stairs. I cut through them with Riptide faster than they could yelp. I kept climbing—past another telkhine, who was so startled he dropped his Lil’ Demons lunch box. I left him alive— partly because his lunch box was cool, partly so he could raise the alarm and hopefully get his friends to follow me rather than head toward the engine room. I burst through a door onto deck six and kept running. I’m sure the carpeted hall had once been very plush, but over the last three years of monster occupation the wallpaper, carpet, and stateroom doors had been clawed up and slimed so it looked like the inside of a dragon’s throat (and yes, unfortunately, I speak from experience). Back on my first visit to the Princess Andromeda, my old enemy Luke had kept some dazed tourists on board for show, shrouded in Mist so they didn’t realize they were on a monster-infested ship. Now I didn’t see any sign of tourists. I hated to think what had happened to them, but I kind of doubted they’d been allowed to go home with their bingo winnings. I reached the promenade, a big shopping mall that took up the whole middle of the ship, and I stopped cold. In the middle of the courtyard stood a fountain. And in the fountain squatted a giant crab. I’m not talking giant like $7.99 all-you-can-eat Alaskan king crab. I’m talking giant like bigger than the fountain. The monster rose ten feet out of the water. Its shell was mottled blue and green, its pincers longer than my body. If you’ve ever seen a crab’s mouth, all foamy and gross with whiskers and snapping bits, you can imagine this one didn’t look any better blown up to billboard size. Its beady black eyes glared at me, and I could see intelligence in them—and hate. The fact that I was the son of the sea god was not going to win me any points with Mr. Crabby. “FFFFfffffff,” it hissed, sea foam dripping from its mouth. The smell coming off it was like a garbage can full of fish sticks that had been sitting in the sun all week. Alarms blared. Soon I was going to have lots of company and I had to keep moving. “Hey, crabby.” I inched around the edge of the courtyard. “I’m just gonna scoot around you so—” The crab moved with amazing speed. It scuttled out of the fountain and came straight at me, pincers snapping. I dove into a gift shop, plowing through a rack of T-shirts. A crab pincer smashed the glass walls to pieces and raked across the room. I dashed back outside, breathing heavily, but Mr. Crabby turned and followed. “There!” a voice said from a balcony above me. “Intruder!” If I’d wanted to create a distraction, I’d succeeded, but this was not where I wanted to fight. If I got pinned down in the center of the ship, I was crab chow. The demonic crustacean lunged at me. I sliced with Riptide, taking off the tip of its claw. It hissed and foamed, but didn’t seem very hurt. I tried to remember anything from the old stories that might help with this thing. Annabeth had told me about a monster crab—something about Hercules crushing it under his foot? That wasn’t going to work here. This crab was slightly bigger than my Reeboks. Then a weird thought came to me. Last Christmas, my mom and I had brought Paul Blofis to our old cabin at Montauk, where we’d been going forever. Paul had taken me crabbing, and when he’d brought up a net full of the things, he’d shown me how crabs have a chink in their armor, right in the middle of their ugly bellies. The only problem was getting to the ugly belly. I glanced at the fountain, then at the marble floor, already slick from scuttling crab tracks. I held out my hand, concentrating on the water, and the fountain exploded. Water sprayed everywhere, three stories high, dousing the balconies and the elevators and the windows of the shops. The crab didn’t care. He loved water. He came at me sideways, snapping and hissing, and I ran straight at him, screaming, “AHHHHHHH!” Just before we collided, I hit the ground baseball-style and slid on the wet marble floor straight under him. It was like sliding under a seven-ton armored vehicle. All the crab had to do was sit and squash me, but before he realized what was going on, I jabbed Riptide into the chink in his armor, let go of the hilt, and pushed myself out the backside. The monster shuddered and hissed. His eyes dissolved. His shell turned bright red as his insides evaporated. The empty shell clattered to the floor in a massive heap. I didn’t have time to admire my handiwork. I ran for the nearest stairs while all around me monsters and demigods shouted orders and strapped on their weapons. I was empty-handed. Riptide, being magic, would appear in my pocket sooner or later, but for now it was stuck somewhere under the wreckage of the crab, and I had no time to retrieve it. In the elevator foyer on deck eight, a couple of dracaenae slithered across my path. From the waist up, they were women with green scaly skin, yellow eyes, and forked tongues. From the waist down, they had double snake trunks instead of legs. They held spears and weighted nets, and I knew from experience they could use them. “What isss thisss?” one said. “A prize for Kronosss!” I wasn’t in the mood to play break-the-snake, but in front of me was a stand with a model of the ship, like a YOU ARE HERE display. I ripped the model off the pedestal and hurled it at the first dracaena. The boat smacked her in her face and she went down with the ship. I jumped over her, grabbed her friend’s spear, and swung her around. She slammed into the elevator, and I kept running toward the front of the ship. “Get him!” she screamed. Hellhounds bayed. An arrow from somewhere whizzed past my face and impaled itself in the mahogany-paneled wall of the stairwell. I didn’t care—as long as I got the monsters away from the engine room and gave Beckendorf more time. As I was running up the stairwell, a kid charged down. He looked like he’d just woken up from a nap. His armor was half on. He drew his sword and yelled, “Kronos!” but he sounded more scared than angry. He couldn’t have been more than twelve—about the same age I was when I first went to Camp Half-Blood. That thought depressed me. This kid was getting brain-washed—trained to hate the gods and lash out because he’d been born half Olympian. Kronos was using him, and yet the kid thought I was his enemy. No way was I going to hurt him. I didn’t need a weapon for this. I stepped inside his strike and grabbed his wrist, slamming it against the wall. His sword clattered out of his hand. Then I did something I hadn’t planned on. It was probably stupid. It definitely jeopardized our mission, but I couldn’t help it. “If you want to live,” I told him, “get off this ship now. Tell the other demigods.” Then I shoved him downstairs and sent him tumbling to the next floor. I kept climbing. Bad memories: a hallway ran past the cafeteria. Annabeth, my half brother Tyson, and I had sneaked through here three years ago on my first visit. I burst outside onto the main deck. Off the port bow, the sky was darkening from purple to black. A swimming pool glowed between two glass towers with more balconies and restaurant decks. The whole upper ship seemed eerily deserted. All I had to do was cross to the other side. Then I could take the staircase down to the helipad—our emergency rendezvous point. With any luck, Beckendorf would meet me there. We’d jump into the sea. My water powers would protect us both, and we’d detonate the charges from a quarter mile away. I was halfway across the deck when the sound of a voice made me freeze. “You’re late, Percy.” Luke stood on the balcony above me, a smile on his scarred face. He wore jeans, a white T-shirt, and flip-flops, like he was just a normal college-age guy, but his eyes told the truth. They were solid gold. “We’ve been expecting you for days.” At first he sounded normal, like Luke. But then his face twitched. A shudder passed through his body like he’d just drunk something really nasty. His voice became heavier, ancient, and power-ful—the voice of the Titan lord Kronos. The words scraped down my spine like a knife blade. “Come, bow before me.” “Yeah, that’ll happen,” I muttered. Laistrygonian giants filed in on either side of the swimming pool as if they’d been waiting for a cue. Each was eight feet tall with tattooed arms, leather armor, and spiked clubs. Demigod archers appeared on the roof above Luke. Two hellhounds leaped down from the opposite balcony and snarled at me. Within seconds I was surrounded. A trap: there’s no way they could’ve gotten into position so fast unless they’d known I was coming. I looked up at Luke, and anger boiled inside me. I didn’t know if Luke’s consciousness was even still alive inside that body. Maybe, the way his voice had changed . . . or maybe it was just Kronos adapting to his new form. I told myself it didn’t matter. Luke had been twisted and evil long before Kronos possessed him. A voice in my head said: I have to fight him eventually. Why not now? According to that big prophecy, I was supposed to make a choice that saved or destroyed the world when I was sixteen. That was only seven days away. Why not now? If I really had the power, what difference would a week make? I could end this threat right here by taking down Kronos. Hey, I’d fought monsters and gods before. As if reading my thoughts, Luke smiled. No, he was Kronos. I had to remember that. “Come forward,” he said. “If you dare.” The crowd of monsters parted. I moved up the stairs, my heart pounding. I was sure somebody would stab me in the back, but they let me pass. I felt my pocket and found my pen waiting. I uncapped it, and Riptide grew into a sword. Kronos’s weapon appeared in his hands—a six-footlong scythe, half Celestial bronze, half mortal steel. Just looking at the thing made my knees turn to Jell-O. But before I could change my mind, I charged. Time slowed down. I mean literally slowed down, because Kronos had that power. I felt like I was moving through syrup. My arms were so heavy, I could barely raise my sword. Kronos smiled, swirling his scythe at normal speed and waiting for me to creep toward my death. I tried to fight his magic. I concentrated on the sea around me—the source of my power. I’d gotten better at channeling it over the years, but now nothing seemed to happen. I took another slow step forward. Giants jeered. Dracaenae hissed with laughter. Hey, ocean, I pleaded. Any day now would be good. Suddenly there was a wrenching pain in my gut. The entire boat lurched sideways, throwing monsters off their feet. Four thousand gallons of salt water surged out of the swimming pool, dousing me and Kronos and everyone on the deck. The water revitalized me, breaking the time spell, and I lunged forward. I struck at Kronos, but I was still too slow. I made the mistake of looking at his face—Luke’s face—a guy who was once my friend. As much as I hated him, it was hard to kill him. Kronos had no such hesitation. He sliced downward with his scythe. I leaped back, and the evil blade missed by an inch, cutting a gash in the deck right between my feet. I kicked Kronos in the chest. He stumbled backward, but he was heavier than Luke should’ve been. It was like kicking a refrigerator. Kronos swung his scythe again. I intercepted with Riptide, but his strike was so powerful, my blade could only deflect it. The edge of the scythe shaved off my shirtsleeve and grazed my arm. It shouldn’t have been a serious cut, but the entire side of my body exploded with pain. I remembered what a sea demon had once said about Kronos’s scythe: Careful, fool. One touch, and the blade will sever your soul from your body. Now I understood what he meant. I wasn’t just losing blood. I could feel my strength, my will, my identity draining away. I stumbled backward, switched my sword to my left hand, and lunged desperately. My blade should’ve run him through, but it deflected off his stomach like I was hitting solid marble. There was no way he should’ve survived that. Kronos laughed. “A poor performance, Percy Jackson. Luke tells me you were never his match at swordplay.” My vision started to blur. I knew I didn’t have much time. “Luke had a big head,” I said. “But at least it was his head.” “A shame to kill you now,” Kronos mused, “before the final plan unfolds. I would love to see the terror in your eyes when you realize how I will destroy Olympus.” “You’ll never get this boat to Manhattan.” My arm was throbbing. Black spots danced in my eyes. “And why would that be?” Kronos’s golden eyes glittered. His face—Luke’s face—seemed like a mask, unnatural and lit from behind by some evil power. “Perhaps you are counting on your friend with the explosives?” He looked down at the pool and called, “Nakamura!” A teenage guy in full Greek armor pushed through the crowd. His left eye was covered with a black patch. I knew him, of course: Ethan Nakamura, the son of Nemesis. I’d saved his life in the Labyrinth last summer, and in return, the little punk had helped Kronos come back to life. “Success, my lord,” Ethan called. “We found him just as we were told.” He clapped his hands, and two giants lumbered forward, dragging Charles Beckendorf between them. My heart almost stopped. Beckendorf had a swollen eye and cuts all over his face and arms. His armor was gone and his shirt was nearly torn off. “No!” I yelled. Beckendorf met my eyes. He glanced at his hand like he was trying to tell me something. His watch. They hadn’t taken it yet, and that was the detonator. Was it possible the explosives were armed? Surely the monsters would’ve dismantled them right away. “We found him amidships,” one of the giants said, “trying to sneak to the engine room. Can we eat him now?” “Soon.” Kronos scowled at Ethan. “Are you sure he didn’t set the explosives?” “He was going toward the engine room, my lord.” “How do you know that?” “Er . . .” Ethan shifted uncomfortably. “He was heading in that direction. And he told us. His bag is still full of explosives.” Slowly, I began to understand. Beckendorf had fooled them. When he’d realized he was going to be captured, he turned to make it look like he was going the other way. He’d convinced them he hadn’t made it to the engine room yet. The Greek fire might still be primed! But that didn’t do us any good unless we could get off the ship and detonate it. Kronos hesitated. Buy the story, I prayed. The pain in my arm was so bad now I could barely stand. “Open his bag,” Kronos ordered. One of the giants ripped the explosives satchel from Beckendorf ’s shoulders. He peered inside, grunted, and turned it upside down. Panicked monsters surged backward. If the bag really had been full of Greek fire jars, we would’ve all blown up. But what fell out were a dozen cans of peaches. I could hear Kronos breathing, trying to control his anger. “Did you, perhaps,” he said, “capture this demigod near the galley?” Ethan turned pale. “Um—” “And did you, perhaps, send someone to actually CHECK THE ENGINE ROOM?” Ethan scrambled back in terror, then turned on his heels and ran. I cursed silently. Now we had only minutes before the bombs were disarmed. I caught Beckendorf ’s eyes again and asked a silent question, hoping he would understand: How long? He cupped his fingers and thumb, making a circle. ZERO. There was no delay on the timer at all. If he managed to press the detonator button, the ship would blow at once. We’d never be able to get far enough away before using it. The monsters would kill us first, or disarm the explosives, or both. Kronos turned toward me with a crooked smile. “You’ll have to excuse my incompetent help, Percy Jackson, but it doesn’t matter. We have you now. We’ve known you were coming for weeks.” He held out his hand and dangled a little silver bracelet with a scythe charm—the Titan lord’s symbol. The wound in my arm was sapping my ability to think, but I muttered, “Communication device . . . spy at camp.” Kronos chuckled. “You can’t count on friends. They will always let you down. Luke learned that lesson the hard way. Now drop your sword and surrender to me, or your friend dies.” I swallowed. One of the giants had his hand around Beckendorf ’s neck. I was in no shape to rescue him, and even if I tried, he would die before I got there. We both would. Beckendorf mouthed one word: Go. I shook my head. I couldn’t just leave him. The second giant was still rummaging through the peach cans, which meant Beckendorf ’s left arm was free. He raised it slowly—toward the watch on his right wrist. I wanted to scream, NO! Then down by the swimming pool, one of the dracaenae hissed, “What isss he doing? What isss that on hisss wrissst?” Beckendorf closed eyes tight and brought his hand up to his watch. I had no choice. I threw my sword like a javelin at Kronos. It bounced harmlessly off his chest, but it did startle him. I pushed through a crowd of monsters and jumped off the side of the ship—toward the water a hundred feet below. I heard rumbling deep in the ship. Monsters yelled at me from above. A spear sailed past my ear. An arrow pierced my thigh, but I barely had time to register the pain. I plunged into the sea and willed the currents to take me far, far away—a hundred yards, two hundred yards. Even from that distance, the explosion shook the world. Heat seared the back of my head. The Princess Andromeda blew up from both sides, a massive fireball of green flame roiling into the dark sky, consuming everything. Beckendorf, I thought. Then I blacked out and sank like an anchor toward the bottom of the sea. TEN [image: ] I BUY SOME NEW FRIENDS Mrs. O’Leary was the only one happy about the sleeping city. We found her pigging out at an overturned hot dog stand while the owner was curled up on the sidewalk, sucking his thumb. Argus was waiting for us with his hundred eyes wide open. He didn’t say anything. He never does. I guess that’s because he supposedly has an eyeball on his tongue. But his face made it clear he was freaking out. I told him what we’d learned in Olympus, and how the gods would not be riding to the rescue. Argus rolled his eyes in disgust, which looked pretty psychedelic since it made his whole body swirl. “You’d better get back to camp,” I told him. “Guard it as best you can.” He pointed at me and raised his eyebrow quizzically. “I’m staying,” I said. Argus nodded, like this answer satisfied him. He looked at Annabeth and drew a circle in the air with his finger. “Yes,” Annabeth agreed. “I think it’s time.” “For what?” I asked. Argus rummaged around in the back of his van. He brought out a bronze shield and passed it to Annabeth. It looked pretty much standard issue—the same kind of round shield we always used in capture the flag. But when Annabeth set it on the ground, the reflection on the polished metal changed from sky and buildings to the Statue of Liberty—which wasn’t anywhere close to us. “Whoa,” I said. “A video shield.” “One of Daedalus’s ideas,” Annabeth said. “I had Beckendorf make this before—” She glanced at Silena. “Um, anyway, the shield bends sunlight or moonlight from anywhere in the world to create a reflection. You can literally see any target under the sun or moon, as long as natural light is touching it. Look.” We crowded around as Annabeth concentrated. The image zoomed and spun at first, so I got motion sickness just watching it. We were in the Central Park Zoo, then zooming down East 60th, past Bloomingdale’s, then turning on Third Avenue. “Whoa,” Connor Stoll said. “Back up. Zoom in right there.” “What?” Annabeth said nervously. “You see invaders?” “No, right there—Dylan’s Candy Bar.” Connor grinned at his brother. “Dude, it’s open. And everyone is asleep. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” “Connor!” Katie Gardner scolded. She sounded like her mother, Demeter. “This is serious. You are not going to loot a candy store in the middle of a war!” “Sorry,” Connor muttered, but he didn’t sound very ashamed. Annabeth passed her hand in front of the shield, and another scene popped up: FDR Drive, looking across the river at Lighthouse Park. “This will let us see what’s going on across the city,” she said. “Thank you, Argus. Hopefully we’ll see you back at camp . . . someday.” Argus grunted. He gave me a look that clearly meant Good luck; you’ll need it, then climbed into his van. He and the two harpy drivers swerved away, weaving around clusters of idle cars that littered the road. I whistled for Mrs. O’Leary, and she came bounding over. “Hey, girl,” I said. “You remember Grover? The satyr we met in the park?” “WOOF!” I hoped that meant Sure I do! And not, Do you have more hot dogs? “I need you to find him,” I said. “Make sure he’s still awake. We’re going to need his help. You got that? Find Grover!” Mrs. O’Leary gave me a sloppy wet kiss, which seemed kind of unnecessary. Then she raced off north. Pollux crouched next to a sleeping policeman. “I don’t get it. Why didn’t we fall asleep too? Why just the mortals?” “This is a huge spell,” Silena Beauregard said. “The bigger the spell, the easier it is to resist. If you want to sleep millions of mortals, you’ve got to cast a very thin layer of magic. Sleeping demigods is much harder.” I stared at her. “When did you learn so much about magic?” Silena blushed. “I don’t spend all my time on my wardrobe.” “Percy,” Annabeth called. She was still looking at the shield. “You’d better see this.” The bronze image showed Long Island Sound near La Guardia. A fleet of a dozen speedboats raced through the dark water toward Manhattan. Each boat was packed with demigods in full Greek armor. At the back of the lead boat, a purple banner emblazoned with a black scythe flapped in the night wind. I’d never seen that design before, but it wasn’t hard to figure out: the battle flag of Kronos. “Scan the perimeter of the island,” I said. “Quick.” Annabeth shifted the scene south to the harbor. A Staten Island Ferry was plowing through the waves near Ellis Island. The deck was crowded with dracaenae and a whole pack of hellhounds. Swimming in front of the ship was a pod of marine mammals. At first I thought they were dolphins. Then I saw their doglike faces and the swords strapped to their waists, and I realized they were telkhines—sea demons. The scene shifted again: the Jersey shore, right at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. A hundred assorted monsters were marching past the lanes of stopped traffic: giants with clubs, rogue Cyclopes, a few fire-spitting dragons, and just to rub it in, a World War II–era Sherman tank, pushing cars out of its way as it rumbled into the tunnel. “What’s happening with the mortals outside Manhattan?” I said. “Is the whole state asleep?” Annabeth frowned. “I don’t think so, but it’s strange. As far as I can tell from these pictures, Manhattan is totally asleep. Then there’s like a fifty-mile radius around the island where time is running really, really slow. The closer you get to Manhattan, the slower it is.” She showed me another scene—a New Jersey highway. It was Saturday evening, so the traffic wasn’t as bad as it might’ve been on a weekday. The drivers looked awake, but the cars were moving at about one mile per hour. Birds flew overhead in slow motion. “Kronos,” I said. “He’s slowing time.” “Hecate might be helping,” Katie Gardner said. “Look how the cars are all veering away from the Manhattan exits, like they’re getting a subconscious message to turn back.” “I don’t know.” Annabeth sounded really frustrated. She hated not knowing. “But somehow they’ve surrounded Manhattan in layers of magic. The outside world might not even realize something is wrong. Any mortals coming toward Manhattan will slow down so much they won’t know what’s happening.” “Like flies in amber,” Jake Mason murmured. Annabeth nodded. “We shouldn’t expect any help coming in.” I turned to my friends. They looked stunned and scared, and I couldn’t blame them. The shield had shown us at least three hundred enemies on the way. There were forty of us. And we were alone. “All right,” I said. “We’re going to hold Manhattan.” Silena tugged at her armor. “Um, Percy, Manhattan is huge.” “We are going to hold it,” I said. “We have to.” “He’s right,” Annabeth said. “The gods of the wind should keep Kronos’s forces away from Olympus by air, so he’ll try a ground assault. We have to cut off the entrances to the island.” “They have boats,” Michael Yew pointed out. An electric tingle went down my back. Suddenly I understood Athena’s advice: Remember the rivers. “I’ll take care of the boats,” I said. Michael frowned. “How?” “Just leave it to me,” I said. “We need to guard the bridges and tunnels. Let’s assume they’ll try a midtown or downtown assault, at least on their first try. That would be the most direct way to the Empire State Building. Michael, take Apollo’s cabin to the Williamsburg Bridge. Katie, Demeter’s cabin takes the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel. Grow thorn bushes and poison ivy in the tunnel. Do whatever you have to do, but keep them out of there! Conner, take half of Hermes cabin and cover the Manhattan Bridge. Travis, you take the other half and cover the Brooklyn Bridge. And no stopping for looting or pillaging!” “Awwww!” the whole Hermes cabin complained. “Silena, take the Aphrodite crew to the Queens– Midtown Tunnel.” “Oh my gods,” one of her sisters said. “Fifth Avenue is so on our way! We could accessorize, and monsters, like, totally hate the smell of Givenchy.” “No delays,” I said. “Well . . . the perfume thing, if you think it’ll work.” Six Aphrodite girls kissed me on the cheek in excitement. “All right, enough!” I closed my eyes, trying to think of what I’d forgotten. “The Holland Tunnel. Jake, take the Hephaestus cabin there. Use Greek fire, set traps. Whatever you’ve got.” He grinned. “Gladly. We’ve got a score to settle. For Beckendorf!” The whole cabin roared in approval. “The 59th Street Bridge,” I said. “Clarisse—” I faltered. Clarisse wasn’t here. The whole Ares cabin, curse them, was sitting back at camp. “We’ll take that,” Annabeth stepped in, saving me from an embarrassing silence. She turned to her siblings. “Malcolm, take the Athena cabin, activate plan twenty-three along the way, just like I showed you. Hold that position.” “You got it.” “I’ll go with Percy,” she said. “Then we’ll join you, or we’ll go wherever we’re needed.” Somebody in the back of the group said, “No detours, you two.” There were some giggles, but I decided to let it pass. “All right,” I said. “Keep in touch with cell phones.” “We don’t have cell phones,” Silena protested. I reached down, picked up some snoring lady’s BlackBerry and tossed it to Silena. “You do now. You all know Annabeth’s number, right? If you need us, pick up a random phone and call us. Use it once, drop it, then borrow another one if you have to. That should make it harder for the monsters to zero in on you.” Everyone grinned as though they liked this idea. Travis cleared his throat. “Uh, if we find a really nice phone—” “No, you can’t keep it,” I said. “Aw, man.” “Hold it, Percy,” Jake Mason said. “You forgot the Lincoln Tunnel.” I bit back a curse. He was right. A Sherman tank and a hundred monsters were marching through that tunnel right now, and I’d positioned our forces everywhere else. Then a girl’s voice called from across the street: “How about you leave that to us?” I’d never been happier to hear anyone in my life. A band of thirty adolescent girls crossed Fifth Avenue. They wore white shirts, silvery camouflage pants, and combat boots. They all had swords at their sides, quivers on their backs, and bows at the ready. A pack of white timber wolves milled around their feet, and many of the girls had hunting falcons on their arms. The girl in the lead had spiky black hair and a black leather jacket. She wore a silver circlet on her head like a princess’s tiara, which didn’t match her skull earrings or her Death to Barbie T-shirt showing a little Barbie doll with an arrow through its head. “Thalia!” Annabeth cried. The daughter of Zeus grinned. “The Hunters of Artemis, reporting for duty.” There were hugs and greetings all around . . . or at least Thalia was friendly. The other Hunters didn’t like being around campers, especially boys, but they didn’t shoot any of us, which for them was a pretty warm welcome. “Where have you been the last year?” I asked Thalia. “You’ve got like twice as many Hunters now!” She laughed. “Long, long story. I bet my adventures were more dangerous than yours, Jackson.” “Complete lie,” I said. “We’ll see,” she promised. “After this is over, you, Annabeth, and me: cheeseburgers and fries at that hotel on West 57th.” “Le Parker Meridien,” I said. “You’re on. And Thalia, thanks.” She shrugged. “Those monsters won’t know what hit them. Hunters, move out!” She slapped her silver bracelet, and the shield Aegis spiraled into full form. The golden head of Medusa molded in the center was so horrible, the campers all backed away. The Hunters took off down the avenue, followed by their wolves and falcons, and I had a feeling the Lincoln Tunnel would be safe for now. “Thank the gods,” Annabeth said. “But if we don’t blockade the rivers from those boats, guarding the bridges and tunnels will be pointless.” “You’re right,” I said. I looked at the campers, all of them grim and determined. I tried not to feel like this was the last time I’d ever see them all together. “You’re the greatest heroes of this millennium,” I told them. “It doesn’t matter how many monsters come at you. Fight bravely, and we will win.” I raised Riptide and shouted, “FOR OLYMPUS!” They shouted in response, and our forty voices echoed off the buildings of Midtown. For a moment it sounded brave, but it died quickly in the silence of ten million sleeping New Yorkers. Annabeth and I would’ve had our pick of cars, but they were all wedged in bumper-to-bumper traffic. None of the engines were running, which was weird. It seemed the drivers had had time to turn off the ignition before they got too sleepy. Or maybe Morpheus had the power to put engines to sleep as well. Most of the drivers had apparently tried to pull to the curb when they felt themselves passing out, but still the streets were too clogged to navigate. Finally we found an unconscious courier leaning against a brick wall, still straddling his red Vespa. We dragged him off the scooter and laid him on the sidewalk. “Sorry, dude,” I said. With any luck, I’d be able to bring his scooter back. If I didn’t, it would hardly matter, because the city would be destroyed. I drove with Annabeth behind me, holding on to my waist. We zigzagged down Broadway with our engine buzzing through the eerie calm. The only sounds were occasional cell phones ringing—like they were calling out to each other, as if New York had turned into a giant electronic aviary. Our progress was slow. Every so often we’d come across pedestrians who’d fallen asleep right in front of a car, and we’d move them just to be safe. Once we stopped to extinguish a pretzel vendor’s cart that had caught on fire. A few minutes later we had to rescue a baby carriage that was rolling aimlessly down the street. It turned out there was no baby in it—just somebody’s sleeping poodle. Go figure. We parked it safely in a doorway and kept driving. We were passing Madison Square Park when Annabeth said, “Pull over.” I stopped in the middle of East 23rd. Annabeth jumped off and ran toward the park. By the time I caught up with her, she was staring at a bronze statue on a red marble pedestal. I’d probably passed it a million times but never really looked at it. The dude was sitting in a chair with his legs crossed. He wore an old-fashioned suit—Abraham Lincoln style—with a bow tie and long coattails and stuff. A bunch of bronze books were piled under his chair. He held a writing quill in one hand and a big metal sheet of parchment in the other. “Why do we care about . . .” I squinted at the name on the pedestal. “William H. Steward?” “Seward,” Annabeth corrected. “He was a New York governor. Minor demigod—son of Hebe, I think. But that’s not important. It’s the statue I care about.” She climbed on a park bench and examined the base of the statue. “Don’t tell me he’s an automaton,” I said. Annabeth smiled. “Turns out most of the statues in the city are automatons. Daedalus planted them here just in case he needed an army.” “To attack Olympus or defend it?” Annabeth shrugged. “Either one. That was plan twenty-three. He could activate one statue and it would start activating its brethren all over the city, until there was an army. It’s dangerous, though. You know how unpredictable automatons are.” “Uh-huh,” I said. We’d had our share of bad experiences with them. “You’re seriously thinking about activating it?” “I have Daedalus’s notes,” she said. “I think I can . . . Ah, here we go.” She pressed the tip of Seward’s boot and the statue stood up, its quill and paper ready. “What’s he going to do?” I muttered. “Take a memo?” “Shh,” Annabeth. “Hello, William.” “Bill,” I suggested. “Bill . . . Oh, shut up,” Annabeth told me. The statue tilted its head, looking at us with blank metal eyes. Annabeth cleared her throat. “Hello, er, Governor Seward. Command sequence: Daedalus Twenty-three. Defend Manhattan. Begin Activation.” Seward jumped off his pedestal. He hit the ground so hard his shoes cracked the sidewalk. Then he went clanking off toward the east. “He’s probably going to wake up Confucius,” Annabeth guessed. “What?” I said. “Another statute on Division. The point is, they’ll keep waking each other up until they’re all activated.” “And then?” “Hopefully, they defend Manhattan.” “Do they know that we’re not the enemy?” “I think so.” “That’s reassuring.” I thought about all the bronze statues in the parks, plazas, and buildings of New York. There had to be hundreds, maybe thousands. Then a ball of green light exploded in the evening sky. Greek fire, somewhere over the East River. “We have to hurry,” I said. And we ran for the Vespa. We parked outside Battery Park, at the lower tip of Manhattan where the Hudson and East Rivers came together and emptied into the bay. “Wait here,” I told Annabeth. “Percy, you shouldn’t go alone.” “Well, unless you can breathe underwater . . .” She sighed. “You are so annoying sometimes.” “Like when I’m right? Trust me, I’ll be fine. I’ve got the curse of Achilles now. I’ll all invincible and stuff.” Annabeth didn’t look convinced. “Just be careful. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I mean, because we need you for the battle.” I grinned. “Back in a flash.” I clambered down the shoreline and waded into the water. Just for you non-sea-god types out there, don’t go swimming in New York Harbor. It may not be as filthy as it was in my mom’s day, but that water will still probably make you grow a third eye or have mutant children when you grow up. I dove into the murk and sank to the bottom. I tried to find the spot where the two rivers’ currents seemed equal— where they met to form the bay. I figured that was the best place to get their attention. “HEY!” I shouted in my best underwater voice. The sound echoed in the darkness. “I heard you guys are so polluted you’re embarrassed to show your faces. Is that true?” A cold current rippled through the bay, churning up plumes of garbage and silt. “I heard the East River is more toxic,” I continued, “but the Hudson smells worse. Or is it the other way around?” The water shimmered. Something powerful and angry was watching me now. I could sense its presence . . . or maybe two presences. I was afraid I’d miscalculated with the insults. What if they just blasted me without showing themselves? But these were New York river gods. I figured their instinct would be to get in my face. Sure enough, two giant forms appeared in front of me. At first they were just dark brown columns of silt, denser than the water around them. Then they grew legs, arms, and scowling faces. The creature on the left looked disturbingly like a telkhine. His face was wolfish. His body was vaguely like a seal’s—sleek black with flipper hands and feet. His eyes glowed radiation green. The dude on the right was more humanoid. He was dressed in rags and seaweed, with a chain-mail coat made of bottle caps and old plastic six-pack holders. His face was blotchy with algae, and his beard was overgrown. His deep blue eyes burned with anger. The seal, who had to be the god of the East River, said, “Are you trying to get yourself killed, kid? Or are you just extra stupid?” The bearded spirit of the Hudson scoffed. “You’re the expert on stupid, East.” “Watch it, Hudson,” East growled. “Stay on your side of the island and mind your business.” “Or what? You’ll throw another garbage barge at me?” They floated toward each other, ready to fight. “Hold it!” I yelled. “We’ve got a bigger problem.” “The kid’s right,” East snarled. “Let’s both kill him, then we’ll fight each other.” “Sounds good,” Hudson said. Before I could protest, a thousand scraps of garbage surged off the bottom and flew straight at me from both directions: broken glass, rocks, cans, tires. I was expecting it, though. The water in front of me thickened into a shield. The debris bounced off harmlessly. Only one piece got through—a big chunk of glass that hit my chest and probably should’ve killed me, but it shattered against my skin. The two river gods stared at me. “Son of Poseidon?” East asked. I nodded. “Took a dip in the Styx?” Hudson asked. “Yep.” They both made disgusted sounds. “Well, that’s the perfect,” East said. “Now how do we kill him?” “We could electrocute him,” Hudson mused. “If I could just find some jumper cables—” “Listen to me!” I said. “Kronos’s army is invading Manhattan!” “Don’t you think we know that?” East asked. “I can feel his boats right now. They’re almost across.” “Yep,” Hudson agreed. “I got some filthy monsters crossing my waters too.” “So stop them,” I said. “Drown them. Sink their boats.” “Why should we?” Hudson grumbled. “So they invade Olympus. What do we care?” “Because I can pay you.” I took out the sand dollar my father had given me for my birthday. The river gods’ eyes widened. “It’s mine!” East said. “Give it here, kid, and I promise none of Kronos’s scum are getting across the East River.” “Forget that,” Hudson said. “That sand dollar’s mine, unless you want me to let all those ships cross the Hudson.” “We’ll compromise.” I broke the sand dollar in half. A ripple of clean fresh water spread out from the break, as if all the pollution in the bay were being dissolved. “You each get half,” I said. “In exchange, you keep all of Kronos’s forces away from Manhattan.” “Oh, man,” Hudson whimpered, reaching out for the sand dollar. “It’s been so long since I was clean.” “The power of Poseidon,” East River murmured. “He’s a jerk, but he sure knows how to sweep pollution away.” They looked at each other, then spoke as one: “It’s a deal.” I gave them each half of the sand dollar, which they held reverently. “Um, the invaders?” I prompted. East flicked his hand. “They just got sunk.” Hudson snapped his fingers. “Bunch of hellhounds just took a dive.” “Thank you,” I said. “Stay clean.” As I rose toward the surface, East called out, “Hey, kid, any time you got a sand dollar to spend, come on back. Assuming you live.” “Curse of Achilles,” Hudson snorted. “They always think that’ll save them, don’t they?” “If only he knew,” East agreed. They both laughed, dissolving into the water. Back on the shore, Annabeth was talking on her cell phone, but she hung up as soon as she saw me. She looked pretty shaken. “It worked,” I told her. “The rivers are safe.” “Good,” she said. “Because we’ve got other problems. Michael Yew just called. Another army is marching over the Williamsburg Bridge. The Apollo cabin needs help. And Percy, the monster leading the enemy . . . it’s the Minotaur.” ELEVEN [image: ] WE BREAK A BRIDGE Fortunately, Blackjack was on duty. I did my best taxicab whistle, and within a few minutes two dark shapes circled out of the sky. They looked like hawks at first, but as they descended I could make out the long galloping legs of pegasi. Yo, boss. Blackjack landed at a trot, his friend Porkpie right behind him. Man, I thought those wind gods were gonna knock us to Pennsylvania until we said we were with you! “Thanks for coming,” I told him. “Hey, why do pegasi gallop as they fly, anyway?” Blackjack whinnied. Why do humans swing their arms as they walk? I dunno, boss. It just feels right. Where to? “We need to get to the Williamsburg Bridge,” I said. Blackjack lowered his neck. You’re darn right, boss. We flew over it on the way here, and it don’t look good. Hop on! On the way to the bridge, a knot formed in the pit of my stomach. The Minotaur was one of the first monsters I’d ever defeated. Four years ago he’d nearly killed my mother on Half-Blood Hill. I still had nightmares about that. I’d been hoping he would stay dead for a few centuries, but I should’ve known my luck wouldn’t hold. We saw the battle before we were close enough to make out individual fighters. It was well after midnight now, but the bridge blazed with light. Cars were burning. Arcs of fire streamed in both directions as flaming arrows and spears sailed through the air. We came in for a low pass, and I saw the Apollo campers retreating. They would hide behind cars and snipe at the approaching army, setting off explosive arrows and dropping caltrops in the road, building fiery barricades wherever they could, dragging sleeping drivers out of their cars to get them out of harm’s way. But the enemy kept advancing. An entire phalanx of dracaenae marched in the lead, their shields locked together, spear tips bristling over the top. An occasional arrow would connect with their snaky trunks, or a neck, or a chink in their armor, and the unlucky snake woman would disintegrate, but most of the Apollo arrows glanced harmlessly off their shield wall. About a hundred more monsters marched behind them. Hellhounds leaped ahead of the line from time to time. Most were destroyed with arrows, but one got hold of an Apollo camper and dragged him away. I didn’t see what happened to him next. I didn’t want to know. “There!” Annabeth called from the back of her pegasus. Sure enough, in the middle of the invading legion was Old Beefhead himself. The last time I’d seen the Minotaur, he’d been wearing nothing but his tighty whities. I don’t know why. Maybe he’d been shaken out of bed to chase me. This time, he was prepared for battle. From the waist down, he wore standard Greek battle gear—a kiltlike apron of leather and metal flaps, bronze greaves covering his legs, and tightly wrapped leather sandals. His top was all bull—hair and hide and muscle leading to a head so large he should’ve toppled over just from the weight of his horns. He seemed larger than the last time I’d seen him—ten feet tall at least. A double-bladed axe was strapped to his back, but he was too impatient to use it. As soon as he saw me circling overhead (or sniffed me, more likely, since his eyesight was bad), he bellowed and picked up a white limousine. “Blackjack, dive!” I yelled. What? The pegasus asked. No way could he . . . Holy horse feed! We were at least a hundred feet up, but the limo came sailing toward us, flipping fender over fender like a two-ton boomerang. Annabeth and Porkpie swerved madly to the left, while Blackjack tucked in his wings and plunged. The limo sailed over my head, missing by maybe two inches. It cleared the suspension lines of the bridge and fell toward the East River. Monsters jeered and shouted, and the Minotaur picked up another car. “Drop us behind the lines with the Apollo cabin,” I told Blackjack. “Stay in earshot but get out of danger!” I ain’t gonna argue, boss! Blackjack swooped down behind an overturned school bus where a couple of campers were hiding. Annabeth and I leaped off as soon as our pegasi’s hooves touched the pavement. Then Blackjack and Porkpie soared into the night sky. Michael Yew ran up to us. He was definitely the shortest commando I’d ever seen. He had a bandaged cut on his arm. His ferrety face was smeared with soot and his quiver was almost empty, but he was smiling like he was having a great time. “Glad you could join us,” he said. “Where are the other reinforcements?” “For now, we’re it,” I said. “Then we’re dead,” he said. “You still have your flying chariot?” Annabeth asked. “Nah,” Michael said. “Left it at camp. I told Clarisse she could have it. Whatever, you know? Not worth fighting about anymore. But she said it was too late. We’d insulted her honor for the last time or some stupid thing.” “Least you tried,” I said. Michael shrugged. “Yeah, well, I called her some names when she said she still wouldn’t fight. I doubt that helped. Here come the uglies!” He drew an arrow and launched it toward the enemy. The arrow made a screaming sound as it flew. When it landed, it unleashed a blast like a power chord on an electric guitar magnified through the world’s largest speakers. The nearest cars exploded. Monsters dropped their weapons and clasped their ears in pain. Some ran. Others disintegrated on the spot. “That was my last sonic arrow,” Michael said. “A gift from your dad?” I asked. “God of music?” Michael grinned wickedly. “Loud music can be bad for you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always kill.” Sure enough, most monsters were regrouping, shaking off their confusion. “We have to fall back,” Michael said. “I’ve got Kayla and Austin setting traps farther down the bridge.” “No,” I said. “Bring your campers forward to this position and wait for my signal. We’re going to drive the enemy back to Brooklyn.” Michael laughed. “How do you plan to do that?” I drew my sword. “Percy,” Annabeth said, “let me come with you.” “Too dangerous,” I said. “Besides, I need you to help Michael coordinate the defensive line. I’ll distract the monsters. You group up here. Move the sleeping mortals out of the way. Then you can start picking off monsters while I keep them focused on me. If anybody can do all that, you can.” Michael snorted. “Thanks a lot.” I kept my eyes on Annabeth. She nodded reluctantly. “All right. Get moving.” Before I could lose my courage, I said, “Don’t I get a kiss for luck? It’s kind of a tradition, right?” I figured she would punch me. Instead, she drew her knife and stared at the army marching toward us. “Come back alive, Seaweed Brain. Then we’ll see.” I figured it was the best offer I would get, so I stepped out from behind the school bus. I walked up the bridge in plain sight, straight toward the enemy. When the Minotaur saw me, his eyes burned with hate. He bellowed—a sound that was somewhere between a yell, a moo, and a really loud belch. “Hey, Beef Boy,” I shouted back. “Didn’t I kill you already?” He pounded his fist into the hood of a Lexus and it crumpled like aluminum foil. A few dracaenae threw flaming javelins at me. I knocked them aside. A hellhound lunged and I sidestepped. I could have stabbed it, but I hesitated. This is not Mrs. O’Leary, I reminded myself. This is an untamed monster. It will kill me and all my friends. It pounced again. This time I brought Riptide up in a deadly arc. The hellhound disintegrated into dust and fur. More monsters surged forward—snakes and giants and telkhines—but the Minotaur roared at them, and they backed off. “One on one?” I called. “Just like old times?” The Minotaur’s nostrils quivered. He seriously needed to keep a pack of Aloe Vera Kleenex in his armor pocket, because that nose was wet and red and pretty gross. He unstrapped his axe and swung it around. It was beautiful in a harsh I’m-going-to-gut-you-like-a-fish kind of way. Each of its twin blades was shaped like an omega: Ω—the last letter of the Greek alphabet. Maybe that was because the axe would be the last thing his victims ever saw. The shaft was about the same height as the Minotaur, bronze wrapped in leather. Tied around the base of each blade were lots of bead necklaces. I realized they were Camp Half-Blood beads—necklaces taken from defeated demigods. I was so mad I imagined my eyes glowing just like the Minotaur’s. I raised my sword. The monster army cheered for the Minotaur, but the sound died when I dodged his first swing and sliced his axe in half, right between the hand-holds. “Moo?” he grunted. “HAAA!” I spun and kicked him in the snout. He staggered backward, trying to regain his footing, then lowered his head to charge. He never got the chance. My sword flashed—slicing off one horn, then the other. He tried to grab me. I rolled away, picking up half of his broken axe. The other monsters backed up in stunned silence, making a circle around us. The Minotaur bellowed in rage. He was never very smart to begin with, but now his anger made him reckless. He charged me, and I ran for the edge of the bridge, breaking through a line of dracaenae. The Minotaur must’ve smelled victory. He thought I was trying to get away. His minions cheered. At the edge of the bridge, I turned and braced the axe against the railing to receive his charge. The Minotaur didn’t even slow down. CRUNCH. He looked down in surprise at the axe handle sprouting from his breastplate. “Thanks for playing,” I told him. I lifted him by his legs and tossed him over the side of the bridge. Even as he fell, he was disintegrating, turning back into dust, his essence returning to Tartarus. I turned toward his army. It was now roughly one hundred and ninety-nine to one. I did the natural thing. I charged them. You’re going to ask how the “invincible” thing worked: if I magically dodged every weapon, or if the weapons hit me and just didn’t harm me. Honestly, I don’t remember. All I knew was that I wasn’t going to let these monsters invade my hometown. I sliced through armor like it was made of paper. Snake women exploded. Hellhounds melted to shadow. I slashed and stabbed and whirled, and I might have even laughed once or twice—a crazy laugh that scared me as much as it did my enemies. I was aware of the Apollo campers behind me shooting arrows, disrupting every attempt by the enemy to rally. Finally, the monsters turned and fled—about twenty left alive out of two hundred. I followed with the Apollo campers at my heels. “Yes!” yelled Michael Yew. “That’s what I’m talking about!” We drove them back toward the Brooklyn side of the bridge. The sky was growing pale in the east. I could see the toll stations ahead. “Percy!” Annabeth yelled. “You’ve already routed them. Pull back! We’re overextended!” Some part of me knew she was right, but I was doing so well. I wanted to destroy every last monster. Then I saw the crowd at the base of the bridge. The retreating monsters were running straight toward their reinforcements. It was small group, maybe thirty or forty demigods in battle armor, mounted on skeletal horses. One of them held a purple banner with the black scythe design. The lead horseman trotted forward. He took off his helm, and I recognized Kronos himself, his eyes like molten gold. Annabeth and the Apollo campers faltered. The monsters we’d been pursuing reached the Titan’s line and were absorbed into the new force. Kronos gazed in our direction. He was a quarter mile away, but I swear I could see him smile. “Now,” I said, “we pull back.” The Titan lord’s men drew their swords and charged. The hooves of their skeletal horses thundered against the pavement. Our archers shot a volley, bringing down several of the enemy, but they just kept riding. “Retreat!” I told my friends. “I’ll hold them!” In a matter of seconds they were on me. Michael and his archers tried to retreat, but Annabeth stayed right beside me, fighting with her knife and mirrored shield as we slowly backed up the bridge. Kronos’s cavalry swirled around us, slashing and yelling insults. The Titan himself advanced leisurely, like he had all the time in the world. Being the lord of time, I guess he did. I tried to wound his men, not kill. That slowed me down, but these weren’t monsters. They were demigods who’d fallen under Kronos’s spell. I couldn’t see faces under their battle helmets, but some of them had probably been my friends. I slashed the legs off their horses and made the skeletal mounts disintegrate. After the first few demigods took a spill, the rest figured out they’d better dismount and fight me on foot. Annabeth and I stayed shoulder to shoulder, facing opposite directions. A dark shape passed over me, and I dared to glance up. Blackjack and Porkpie were swooping in, kicking our enemies in the helmets and flying away like very large kamikaze pigeons. We’d almost made it to the middle of the bridge when something strange happened. I felt a chill down my spine— like that old saying about someone walking on your grave. Behind me, Annabeth cried out in pain. “Annabeth!” I turned in time to see her fall, clutching her arm. A demigod with a bloody knife stood over her. In a flash I understood what had happened. He’d been trying to stab me. Judging from the position of his blade, he would’ve taken me—maybe by sheer luck—in the small of my back, my only weak point. Annabeth had intercepted the knife with her own body. But why? She didn’t know about my weak spot. No one did. I locked eyes with the enemy demigod. He wore an eye patch under his war helm: Ethan Nakamura, the son of Nemesis. Somehow he’d survived the explosion on the Princess Andromeda. I slammed him in the face with my sword hilt so hard I dented his helm. “Get back!” I slashed the air in a wide arc, driving the rest of the demigods away from Annabeth. “No one touches her!” “Interesting,” Kronos said. He towered above me on his skeletal horse, his scythe in one hand. He studied the scene with narrowed eyes as if he could sense that I’d just come close to death, the way a wolf can smell fear. “Bravely fought, Percy Jackson,” he said. “But it’s time to surrender . . . or the girl dies.” “Percy, don’t,” Annabeth groaned. Her shirt was soaked with blood. I had to get her out of here. “Blackjack!” I yelled. As fast as light, the pegasus swooped down and clamped his teeth on the straps of Annabeth’s armor. They soared away over the river before the enemy could even react. Kronos snarled. “Some day soon, I am going to make pegasus soup. But in the meantime . . .” He dismounted, his scythe glistening in the dawn light. “I’ll settle for another dead demigod.” I met his first strike with Riptide. The impact shook the entire bridge, but I held my ground. Kronos’s smile wavered. With a yell, I kicked his legs out from under him. His scythe skittered across the pavement. I stabbed downward, but he rolled aside and regained his footing. His scythe flew back to his hands. “So . . .” He studied me, looking mildly annoyed. “You had the courage to visit the Styx. I had to pressure Luke in many ways to convince him. If only you had supplied my host body instead . . . But no matter. I am still more powerful. I am a TITAN.” He struck the bridge with the butt of his scythe, and a wave of pure force blasted me backward. Cars went careening. Demigods—even Luke’s own men—were blown off the edge of the bridge. Suspension cords whipped around, and I skidded halfway back to Manhattan. I got unsteadily to my feet. The remaining Apollo campers had almost made it to the end of the bridge, except for Michael Yew, who was perched on one of the suspension cables a few yards away from me. His last arrow was notched in his bow. “Michael, go!” I screamed. “Percy, the bridge!” he called. “It’s already weak!” At first I didn’t understand. Then I looked down and saw fissures in the pavement. Patches of the road were half melted from Greek fire. The bridge had taken a beating from Kronos’s blast and the exploding arrows. “Break it!” Michael yelled. “Use your powers!” It was a desperate thought—no way it would work— but I stabbed Riptide into the bridge. The magic blade sank to its hilt in asphalt. Salt water shot from the crack like I’d hit a geyser. I pulled out my blade and the fissure grew. The bridge shook and began to crumble. Chunks the size of houses fell into the East River. Kronos’s demigods cried out in alarm and scrambled backward. Some were knocked off their feet. Within a few seconds, a fifty-foot chasm opened in the Williamsburg Bridge between Kronos and me. The vibrations died. Kronos’s men crept to the edge and looked at the hundred-and-thirty-foot drop into the river. I didn’t feel safe, though. The suspension cables were still attached. The men could get across that way if they were brave enough. Or maybe Kronos had a magic way to span the gap. The Titan lord studied the problem. He looked behind him at the rising sun, then smiled across the chasm. He raised his scythe in a mock salute. “Until this evening, Jackson.” He mounted his horse, whirled around, and galloped back to Brooklyn, followed by his warriors. I turned to thank Michael Yew, but the words died in my throat. Twenty feet away, a bow lay in the street. Its owner was nowhere to be seen. “No!” I searched the wreckage on my side of the bridge. I stared down at the river. Nothing. I yelled in anger and frustration. The sound carried forever in the morning stillness. I was about to whistle for Blackjack to help me search, when my mom’s phone rang. The LCD display said I had a call from Finklestein & Associates—probably a demigod calling on a borrowed phone. I picked up, hoping for good news. Of course I was wrong. “Percy?” Silena Beauregard sounded like she’d been crying. “Plaza Hotel. You’d better come quickly and bring a healer from Apollo’s cabin. It’s . . . it’s Annabeth.” TWELVE [image: ] RACHEL MAKES A BAD DEAL I grabbed Will Solace from the Apollo cabin and told the rest of his siblings to keep searching for Michael Yew. We borrowed a Yamaha FZ1 from a sleeping biker and drove to the Plaza Hotel at speeds that would’ve given my mom a heart attack. I’d never driven a motorcycle before, but it wasn’t any harder than riding a pegasus. Along the way, I noticed a lot of empty pedestals that usually held statues. Plan twenty-three seemed to be working. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. It only took us five minutes to reach the Plaza—an old-fashioned white stone hotel with a gabled blue roof, sitting at the southeast corner of Central Park. Tactically speaking, the Plaza wasn’t the best place for a headquarters. It wasn’t the tallest building in town, or the most centrally located. But it had old-school style and had attracted a lot of famous demigods over the years, like the Beatles and Alfred Hitchcock, so I figured we were in good company. I gunned the Yamaha over the curb and swerved to a stop at the fountain outside the hotel. Will and I hopped off. The statue at the top of the fountain called down, “Oh, fine. I suppose you want me to watch your bike, too!” She was a life-size bronze standing in the middle of a granite bowl. She wore only a bronze sheet around her legs, and she was holding a basket of metal fruit. I’d never paid her too much attention before. Then again, she’d never talked to me before. “Are you supposed to be Demeter?” I asked. A bronze apple sailed over my head. “Everyone thinks I’m Demeter!” she complained. “I’m Pompona, the Roman Goddess of Plenty, but why should you care? Nobody cares about the minor gods. If you cared about the minor gods, you wouldn’t be losing this war! Three cheers for Morpheus and Hecate, I say!” “Watch the bike,” I told her. Pompona cursed in Latin and threw more fruit as Will and I ran toward the hotel. I’d never actually been inside the Plaza. The lobby was impressive with the crystal chandeliers and the passed-out rich people, but I didn’t pay much attention. A couple of Hunters gave us directions to the elevators, and we rode up to the penthouse suites. Demigods had completely taken over the top floors. Campers and Hunters were crashed out on sofas, washing up in the bathrooms, ripping silk draperies to bandage their wounds, and helping themselves to snacks and sodas from the minibars. A couple of timber wolves were drinking out of the toilets. I was relieved to see that so many of my friends had made it through the night alive, but everybody looked beat up. “Percy!” Jake Mason clapped me on the shoulder. “We’re getting reports—” “Later,” I said. “Where’s Annabeth?” “The terrace. She’s alive, man, but . . .” I pushed past him. Under different circumstances I would’ve loved the view from the terrace. It looked straight down onto Central Park. The morning was clear and bright—perfect for a picnic or a hike, or pretty much anything except fighting monsters. Annabeth lay on a lounge chair. Her face was pale and beaded with sweat. Even though she was covered in blankets, she shivered. Silena Beauregard was wiping her forehead with a cool cloth. Will and I pushed through a crowd of Athena kids. Will unwrapped Annabeth’s bandages to examine the wound, and I wanted to faint. The bleeding had stopped but the gash looked deep. The skin around the cut was a horrible shade of green. “Annabeth . . .” I choked up. She’d taken that knife for me. How could I have let that happen? “Poison on the dagger,” she mumbled. “Pretty stupid of me, huh?” Will Solace exhaled with relief. “It’s not so bad, Annabeth. A few more minutes and we would’ve been in trouble, but the venom hasn’t gotten past the shoulder yet. Just lie still. Somebody hand me some nectar.” I grabbed a canteen. Will cleaned out the wound with the godly drink while I held Annabeth’s hand. “Ow,” she said. “Ow, ow!” She gripped my fingers so tight they turned purple, but she stayed still, like Will asked. Silena muttered words of encouragement. Will put some silver paste over the wound and hummed words in Ancient Greek—a hymn to Apollo. Then he applied fresh bandages and stood up shakily. The healing must’ve taken a lot of his energy. He looked almost as pale as Annabeth. “That should do it,” he said. “But we’re going to need some mortal supplies.” He grabbed a piece of hotel stationery, jotted down some notes, and handed it to one of the Athena guys. “There’s a Duane Reade on Fifth. Normally I would never steal—” “I would,” Travis volunteered. Will glared at him. “Leave cash or drachmas to pay, whatever you’ve got, but this is an emergency. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to have a lot more people to treat.” Nobody disagreed. There was hardly a single demigod who hadn’t already been wounded . . . except me. “Come on, guys,” Travis Stoll said. “Let’s give Annabeth some space. We’ve got a drugstore to raid . . . I mean, visit.” The demigods shuffled back inside. Jake Mason grabbed my shoulder as he was leaving. “We’ll talk later, but it’s under control. I’m using Annabeth’s shield to keep an eye on things. The enemy withdrew at sunrise; not sure why. We’ve got a lookout at each bridge and tunnel.” “Thanks, man,” I said. He nodded. “Just take your time.” He closed the terrace doors behind him, leaving Silena, Annabeth, and me alone. Silena pressed a cool cloth to Annabeth’s forehead. “This is all my fault.” “No,” Annabeth said weakly. “Silena, how is it your fault?” “I’ve never been any good at camp,” she murmured. “Not like you or Percy. If I was a better fighter . . .” Her mouth trembled. Ever since Beckendorf died she’d been getting worse, and every time I looked at her, it made me angry about his death all over again. Her expression reminded me of glass—like she might break any minute. I swore to myself that if I ever found the spy who’d cost her boyfriend his life, I would give him to Mrs. O’Leary as a chew toy. “You’re a great camper,” I told Silena. “You’re the best pegasus rider we have. And you get along with people. Believe me, anyone who can make friends with Clarisse has talent.” She stared at me like I’d just given her an idea. “That’s it! We need the Ares cabin. I can talk to Clarisse. I know I can convince her to help us.” “Whoa, Silena. Even if you could get off the island, Clarisse is pretty stubborn. Once she gets angry—” “Please,” Silena said. “I can take a pegasus. I know I can make it back to camp. Let me try.” I exchanged looks with Annabeth. She nodded slightly. I didn’t like the idea. I didn’t think Silena stood a chance of convincing Clarisse to fight. On the other hand, Silena was so distracted right now that she would just get herself hurt in battle. Maybe sending her back to camp would give her something else to focus on. “All right,” I told her. “I can’t think of anybody better to try.” Silena threw her arms around me. Then she pushed back awkwardly, glancing at Annabeth. “Um, sorry. Thank you, Percy! I won’t let you down!” Once she was gone, I knelt next to Annabeth and felt her forehead. She was still burning up. “You’re cute when you’re worried,” she muttered. “Your eyebrows get all scrunched together.” “You are not going to die while I owe you a favor,” I said. “Why did you take that knife?” “You would’ve done the same for me.” It was true. I guess we both knew it. Still, I felt like somebody was poking my heart with a cold metal rod. “How did you know?” “Know what?” I looked around to make sure we were alone. Then I leaned in close and whispered: “My Achilles spot. If you hadn’t taken that knife, I would’ve died.” She got a faraway look in her eyes. Her breath smelled of grapes, maybe from the nectar. “I don’t know, Percy. I just had this feeling you were in danger. Where . . . where is the spot?” I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. But this was Annabeth. If I couldn’t trust her, I couldn’t trust anyone. “The small of my back.” She lifted her hand. “Where? Here?” She put her hand on my spine, and my skin tingled. I moved her fingers to the one spot that grounded me to my mortal life. A thousand volts of electricity seemed to arc through my body. “You saved me,” I said. “Thanks.” She removed her hand, but I kept holding it. “So you owe me,” she said weakly. “What else is new?” We watched the sun come up over the city. The traffic should’ve been heavy by now, but there were no cars honking, no crowds bustling along the sidewalks. Far away, I could hear a car alarm echo through the streets. A plume of black smoke curled into the sky somewhere over Harlem. I wondered how many ovens had been left on when the Morpheus spell hit; how many people had fallen asleep in the middle of cooking dinner. Pretty soon there would be more fires. Everyone in New York was in danger—and all those lives depended on us. “You asked me why Hermes was mad at me,” Annabeth said. “Hey, you need to rest—” “No, I want to tell you. It’s been bothering me for a long time.” She moved her shoulder and winced. “Last year, Luke came to see me in San Francisco.” “In person?” I felt like she’d just hit me with a hammer. “He came to your house?” “This was before we went into the Labyrinth, before . . .” She faltered, but I knew what she meant: before he turned into Kronos. “He came under a flag of truce. He said he only wanted five minutes to talk. He looked scared, Percy. He told me Kronos was going to use him to take over the world. He said he wanted to run away, like the old days. He wanted me to come with him.” “But you didn’t trust him.” “Of course not. I thought it was a trick. Plus . . . well, a lot of things had changed since the old days. I told Luke there was no way. He got mad. He said . . . he said I might as well fight him right there, because it was the last chance I’d get.” Her forehead broke out in sweat again. The story was taking too much of her energy. “It’s okay,” I said. “Try to get some rest.” “You don’t understand, Percy. Hermes was right. Maybe if I’d gone with him, I could’ve changed his mind. Or, or I had a knife. Luke was unarmed. I could’ve—” “Killed him?” I said. “You know that wouldn’t have been right.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Luke said Kronos would use him like a stepping stone. Those were his exact words. Kronos would use Luke, and become even more powerful.” “He did that,” I said. “He possessed Luke’s body.” “But what if Luke’s body is only a transition? What if Kronos has a plan to become even more powerful? I could’ve stopped him. The war is my fault.” Her story made me feel like I was back in the Styx, slowing dissolving. I remembered last summer, when the two-headed god, Janus, had warned Annabeth she would have to make a major choice—and that had happened after she saw Luke. Pan had also said something to her: You will play a great role, though it may not be the role you imagined. I wanted to ask her about the vision Hestia had shown me, about her early days with Luke and Thalia. I knew it had something to do with my prophecy, but I didn’t understand what. Before I could get up my nerve, the terrace door opened. Connor Stoll stepped through. “Percy.” He glanced at Annabeth like he didn’t want to say anything bad in front of her, but I could tell he wasn’t bringing good news. “Mrs. O’Leary just came back with Grover. I think you should talk to him.” Grover was having a snack in the living room. He was dressed for battle in an armored shirt made from tree bark and twist ties, with his wooden cudgel and his reed pipes hanging from his belt. The Demeter cabin had whipped up a whole buffet in the hotel kitchens—everything from pizza to pineapple ice cream. Unfortunately, Grover was eating the furniture. He’d already chewed the stuffing off a fancy chair and was now gnawing the armrest. “Dude,” I said, “we’re only borrowing this place.” “Blah-ha-ha!” He had stuffing all over his face. “Sorry, Percy. It’s just . . . Louis the Sixteenth furniture. Delicious. Plus I always eat furniture when I get—” “When you get nervous,” I said. “Yeah, I know. So what’s up?” He clopped on his hooves. “I heard about Annabeth. Is she . . . ?” “She’s going to be fine. She’s resting.” Grover took a deep breath. “That’s good. I’ve mobilized most of the nature spirits in the city—well, the ones that will listen to me, anyway.” He rubbed his forehead. “I had no idea acorns could hurt so much. Anyway, we’re helping out as much as we can.” He told me about the skirmishes they’d seen. Mostly they’d been covering uptown, where we didn’t have enough demigods. Hellhounds had appeared in all sorts of places, shadow-traveling inside our lines, and the dryads and satyrs had been fighting them off. A young dragon had appeared in Harlem, and a dozen wood nymphs died before the monster was finally defeated. As Grover talked, Thalia entered the room with two of her lieutenants. She nodded to me grimly, went outside to check on Annabeth, and came back in. She listened while Grover completed his report—the details getting worse and worse. “We lost twenty satyrs against some giants at Fort Washington,” he said, his voice trembling. “Almost half my kinsmen. River spirits drowned the giants in the end, but . . .” Thalia shouldered her bow. “Percy, Kronos’s forces are still gathering at every bridge and tunnel. And Kronos isn’t the only Titan. One of my Hunters spotted a huge man in golden armor mustering an army on the Jersey shore. I’m not sure who he is, but he radiates power like only a Titan or god.” I remembered the golden Titan from my dream—the one on Mount Othrys who erupted into flames. “Great,” I said. “Any good news?” Thalia shrugged. “We’ve sealed off the subway tunnels into Manhattan. My best trappers took care of it. Also, it seems like the enemy is waiting for tonight to attack. I think Luke”—she caught herself—“I mean Kronos needs time to regenerate after each fight. He’s still not comfortable with his new form. It’s taking a lot of his power to slow time around the city.” Grover nodded. “Most of his forces are more powerful at night, too. But they’ll be back after sundown.” I tried to think clearly. “Okay. Any word from the gods?” Thalia shook her head. “I know Lady Artemis would be here if she could. Athena, too. But Zeus has ordered them to stay at his side. The last I heard, Typhon was destroying the Ohio River valley. He should reach the Appalachian Mountains by midday.” “So at best,” I said, “we’ve got another two days before he arrives.” Jake Mason cleared his throat. He’d been standing there so silently I’d almost forgotten he was in the room. “Percy, something else,” he said. “The way Kronos showed up at the Williamsburg Bridge, like he knew you were going there. And he shifted his forces to our weakest points. As soon as we deployed, he changed tactics. He barely touched the Lincoln Tunnel, where the Hunters were strong. He went for our weakest spots, like he knew.” “Like he had inside information,” I said. “The spy.” “What spy?” Thalia demanded. I told her about the silver charm Kronos had shown me, the communication device. “That’s bad,” she said. “Very bad.” “It could be anyone,” Jake said. “We were all standing there when Percy gave the orders.” “But what can we do?” Grover asked. “Frisk every demigod until we find a scythe charm?” They all looked at me, waiting for a decision. I couldn’t afford to show how panicked I felt, even if things seemed hopeless. “We keep fighting,” I said. “We can’t obsess about this spy. If we’re suspicious of each other, we’ll just tear ourselves apart. You guys were awesome last night. I couldn’t ask for a braver army. Let’s set up a rotation for the watches. Rest up while you can. We’ve got a long night ahead of us.” The demigods mumbled agreement. They went their separate ways to sleep or eat or repair their weapons. “Percy, you too,” Thalia said. “We’ll keep an eye on things. Go lie down. We need you in good shape for tonight.” I didn’t argue too hard. I found the nearest bedroom and crashed on the canopied bed. I thought I was too wired to sleep, but my eyes closed almost immediately. In my dream, I saw Nico di Angelo alone in the gardens of Hades. He’d just dug a hole in one of Persephone’s flower beds, which I didn’t figure would make the queen very happy. He poured a goblet of wine into the hole and began to chant. “Let the dead taste again. Let them rise and take this offering. Maria di Angelo, show yourself!” White smoke gathered. A human figure formed, but it wasn’t Nico’s mother. It was a girl with dark hair, olive skin, and the silvery clothes of a Hunter. “Bianca,” Nico said. “But—” Don’t summon our mother, Nico, she warned. She is the one spirit you are forbidden to see. “Why?” he demanded. “What’s our father hiding?” Pain, Bianca said. Hatred. A curse that stretches back to the Great Prophecy. “What do you mean?” Nico said. “I have to know!” The knowledge will only hurt you. Remember what I said: holding grudges is a fatal flaw for children of Hades. “I know that,” Nico said. “But I’m not the same as I used to be, Bianca. Stop trying to protect me!” Brother, you don’t understand— Nico swiped his hand through the mist, and Bianca’s image dissipated. “Maria di Angelo,” he said again. “Speak to me!” A different image formed. It was a scene rather than a single ghost. In the mist, I saw Nico and Bianca as little children, playing in the lobby of an elegant hotel, chasing each other around marble columns. A woman sat on a nearby sofa. She wore a black dress, gloves, and a black veiled hat like a star from an old 1940s movie. She had Bianca’s smile and Nico’s eyes. On a chair next to her sat a large oily man in a black pinstripe suit. With a shock, I realized it was Hades. He was leaning toward the woman, using his hands as he talked, like he was agitated. “Please, my dear,” he said. “You must come to the Underworld. I don’t care what Persephone thinks! I can keep you safe there.” “No, my love.” She spoke with an Italian accent. “Raise our children in the land of the dead? I will not do this.” “Maria, listen to me. The war in Europe has turned the other gods against me. A prophecy has been made. My children are no longer safe. Poseidon and Zeus have forced me into an agreement. None of us are to have demigod children ever again.” “But you already have Nico and Bianca. Surely—” “No! The prophecy warns of a child who turns sixteen. Zeus has decreed that the children I currently have must be turned over to Camp Half-Blood for proper training, but I know what he means. At best they’ll be watched, imprisoned, turned against their father. Even more likely, he will not take a chance. He won’t allow my demigod children to reach sixteen. He’ll find a way to destroy them, and I won’t risk that!” “Certamente,” Maria said. “We will stay together. Zeus is un imbecile.” I couldn’t help admiring her courage, but Hades glanced nervously at the ceiling. “Maria, please. I told you, Zeus gave me a deadline of last week to turn over the children. His wrath will be horrible, and I cannot hide you forever. As long as you are with the children, you are in danger too.” Maria smiled, and again it was creepy how much she looked like her daughter. “You are a god, my love. You will protect us. But I will not take Nico and Bianca to the Underworld.” Hades wrung his hands. “Then, there is another option. I know a place in the desert where time stands still. I could send the children there, just for a while, for their own safety, and we could be together. I will build you a golden palace by the Styx.” Maria di Angelo laughed gently. “You are a kind man, my love. A generous man. The other gods should see you as I do, and they would not fear you so. But Nico and Bianca need their mother. Besides, they are only children. The gods wouldn’t really hurt them.” “You don’t know my family,” Hades said darkly. “Please, Maria, I can’t lose you.” She touched his lips with her fingers. “You will not lose me. Wait for me while I get my purse. Watch the children.” She kissed the lord of the dead and rose from the sofa. Hades watched her walk upstairs as if her every step away caused him pain. A moment later, he tensed. The children stopped playing as if they sensed something too. “No!” Hades said. But even his godly powers were too slow. He only had time to erect a wall of black energy around the children before the hotel exploded. The force was so violent, the entire mist image dissolved. When it came into focus again, I saw Hades kneeling in the ruins, holding the broken form of Maria di Angelo. Fires still burned all around him. Lightning flashed across the sky, and thunder rumbled. Little Nico and Bianca stared at their mother uncomprehendingly. The Fury Alecto appeared behind them, hissing and flapping her leathery wings. The children didn’t seem to notice her. “Zeus!” Hades shook his fist at the sky. “I will crush you for this! I will bring her back!” “My lord, you cannot,” Alecto warned. “You of all immortals must respect the laws of death.” Hades glowed with rage. I thought he would show his true form and vaporize his own children, but at the last moment he seemed to regain control. “Take them,” he told Alecto, choking back a sob. “Wash their memories clean in the Lethe and bring them to the Lotus Hotel. Zeus will not harm them there.” “As you wish, my lord,” Alecto said. “And the woman’s body?” “Take her as well,” he said bitterly. “Give her the ancient rites.” Alecto, the children, and Maria’s body dissolved into shadows, leaving Hades alone in the ruins. “I warned you,” a new voice said. Hades turned. A girl in a multicolored dress stood by the smoldering remains of the sofa. She had short black hair and sad eyes. She was no more than twelve. I didn’t know her, but she looked strangely familiar. “You dare come here?” Hades growled. “I should blast you to dust!” “You cannot,” the girl said. “The power of Delphi protects me.” With a chill, I realized I was looking at the Oracle of Delphi, back when she was alive and young. Somehow, seeing her like this was even spookier than seeing her as a mummy. “You’ve killed the woman I loved!” Hades roared. “Your prophecy brought us to this!” He loomed over the girl, but she didn’t flinch. “Zeus ordained the explosion to destroy the children,” she said, “because you defied his will. I had nothing to do with it. And I did warn you to hide them sooner.” “I couldn’t! Maria would not let me! Besides, they were innocent.” “Nevertheless, they are your children, which makes them dangerous. Even if you put them away in the Lotus Hotel, you only delay the problem. Nico and Bianca will never be able to rejoin the world lest they turn sixteen.” “Because of your so-called Great Prophecy. And you have forced me into an oath to have no other children. You have left me with nothing!” “I foresee the future,” the girl said. “I cannot change it.” Black fire lit the god’s eyes, and I knew something bad was coming. I wanted to yell at the girl to hide or run. “Then, Oracle, hear the words of Hades,” he growled. “Perhaps I cannot bring back Maria. Nor can I bring you an early death. But your soul is still mortal, and I can curse you.” The girl’s eyes widened. “You would not—” “I swear,” Hades said, “as long as my children remain outcasts, as long as I labor under the curse of your Great Prophecy, the Oracle of Delphi will never have another mortal host. You will never rest in peace. No other will take your place. Your body will wither and die, and still the Oracle’s spirit will be locked inside you. You will speak your bitter prophecies until you crumble to nothing. The Oracle will die with you!” The girl screamed, and the misty image was blasted to shreds. Nico fell to his knees in Persephone’s garden, his face white with shock. Standing in front of him was the real Hades, towering in his black robes and scowling down at his son. “And just what,” he asked Nico, “do you think you’re doing?” A black explosion filled my dreams. Then the scene changed. Rachel Elizabeth Dare was walking along a white sand beach. She wore a swimsuit with a T-shirt wrapped around her waist. Her shoulders and face were sunburned. She knelt and began writing in the surf with her finger. I tried to make out the letters. I thought my dyslexia was acting up until I realized she was writing in Ancient Greek. That was impossible. The dream had to be false. Rachel finished writing a few words and muttered, “What in the world?” I can read Greek, but I only recognized one word before the sea washed it away: _______. My name: Perseus. Rachel stood abruptly and backed away from the surf. “Oh, gods,” she said. “That’s what it means.” She turned and ran, kicking up sand as she raced back to her family’s villa. She pounded up the porch steps, breathing hard. Her father looked up from his Wall Street Journal. “Dad.” Rachel marched up to him. “We have to go back.” Her dad’s mouth twitched, like he was trying to remember how to smile. “Back? We just got here.” “There’s trouble in New York. Percy’s in danger.” “Did he call you?” “No . . . not exactly. But I know. It’s a feeling.” Mr. Dare folded his newspaper. “Your mother and I have been looking forward to this vacation for a long time.” “No you haven’t! You both hate the beach! You’re just too stubborn to admit it.” “Now, Rachel—” “I’m telling you something is wrong in New York! The whole city . . . I don’t know what exactly, but it’s under attack.” Her father sighed. “I think we would’ve heard something like that on the news.” “No,” Rachel insisted. “Not this kind of attack. Have you had any calls since we got here?” Her father frowned. “No . . . but it is the weekend, in the middle of the summer.” “You always get calls,” Rachel said. “You’ve got to admit that’s strange.” Her father hesitated. “We can’t just leave. We’ve spent a lot of money.” “Look,” Rachel said. “Daddy . . . Percy needs me. I have to deliver a message. It’s life and death.” “What message? What are you talking about?” “I can’t tell you.” “Then you can’t go.” Rachel closed her eyes like she was getting up her courage. “Dad . . . let me go, and I’ll make a deal with you.” Mr. Dare sat forward. Deals were something he understood. “I’m listening.” “Clarion Ladies Academy. I’ll, I’ll go there in the fall. I won’t even complain. But you have to get me back to New York right now.” He was silent for a long time. Then he opened his phone and made a call. “Douglas? Prep the plane. We’re leaving for New York. Yes . . . immediately.” Rachel flung her arms around him, and her father seemed surprised, like she’d never hugged him before. “I’ll make it up to you, Dad!” He smiled, but his expression was chilly. He studied her like he wasn’t seeing his daughter—just the young l