The Last Olympian – Chapter 11: WE BREAK A BRIDGE

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Chapter 11

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 handholds.

“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 a 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 l heir 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.”

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