The Last Olympian – Chapter 10: I BUY SOME NEW FRIENDS

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Chapter 10

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 riding.

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 statue, 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 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 a sand-dollar half, 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.”

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