The Last Olympian – Chapter 12: RACHEL MAKES A BAD DEAL

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Chapter 12

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 FZI 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 be 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, slowly 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 yon 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: Περσεύς. 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 some thing 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 or 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 lady he wanted her to be, once Clarion Academy got through with her.

“Yes, Rachel,” he agreed. “You most certainly will.”

The scene faded. I mumbled in my sleep: “Rachel, no!”

I was still tossing and turning when Thalia shook me awake.

“Percy,” she said. “Come on. It’s late afternoon. We’ve got visitors.”

I sat up, disoriented. The bed was too comfortable, and I hated sleeping in the middle of the day.

“Visitors?” I said.

Thalia nodded grimly. “A Titan wants to see you, under a flag of truce. He has a message from Kronos.”

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