The Last Olympian – Chapter 13: A TITAN BRINGS ME A PRESENT

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Chapter 13

A TITAN BRINGS ME

A PRESENT

We could see the white flag from half a mile away. It was as big as a soccer field, carried by a thirty-foot-tall giant with bright blue skin and icy gray hair.

“A Hyperborean,” Thalia said. “The giants of the north. It’s a bad sign that they sided with Kronos. They’re usually peaceful.”

“You’ve met them?” I said.

“Mmm. There’s a big colony in Alberta. You do not want to get into a snowball fight with those guys.”

As the giant got closer, I could see three human-size envoys with him: a half-blood in armor, an empousa demon with a black dress and flaming hair, and a tall man in a tuxedo. The empousa held the tux dude’s arm, so they looked like a couple on their way to a Broadway show or something—

except for her flaming hair and fangs.

The group walked leisurely toward the Heckscher Playground. The swings and ball courts were empty. The only sound was the fountain on Umpire Rock.

I looked at Grover. “The tux dude is the Titan?”

He nodded nervously. “He looks like a magician. I hate magicians. They usually have rabbits.”

I stared at him. “You’re scared of bunnies?”

“Blah-hah-hah! They’re big bullies. Always stealing celery from defenseless satyrs!”

Thalia coughed.

“What?” Grover demanded.

“We’ll have to work on your bunny phobia later,” I said. “Here they come.”

The man in the tux stepped forward. He was taller than an average human—about seven feet. His black hair was tied in a ponytail. Dark round glasses covered his eyes, but what really caught my attention was the skin on his face. It was covered in scratches, like he’d been attacked by a small animal—a really, really mad hamster, maybe.

“Percy Jackson,” he said in a silky voice. “It’s a great honor.”

His lady friend the empousa hissed at me. She’d probably heard how I’d destroyed two of her sisters last summer.

“My dear,” Tux Dude said to her. “Why don’t you make yourself comfortable over there, eh?”

She released his arm and drifted over to a park bench.

I glanced at the armed demigod behind Tux Dude. 1 hadn’t recognized him in his new helmet, but it was my old backstabbing buddy Ethan Nakamura. His nose looked like a squashed tomato from our fight on the Williamsburg Bridge. That made me feel better.

“Hey, Ethan,” I said. “You’re looking good.”

Ethan glared at me.

“To business.” Tux Dude extended his hand. “I am Prometheus.”

I was too surprised to shake. “The fire-stealer guy? The chained-to-the-rock-with-the-vultures guy?”

Prometheus winced. He touched the scratches on his face. “Please, don’t mention the vultures. But yes, I stole fire from the gods and gave it to your ancestors. In return, the ever merciful Zeus had me chained to a rock and tortured for all eternity.”

“But—”

“How did I get free? Hercules did that, eons ago. So you see, I have a soft spot for heroes. Some of you can be quite civilized.”

“Unlike the company you keep,” I noticed.

I was looking at Ethan, but Prometheus apparently thought I meant the empousa.

“Oh, demons aren’t so bad,” he said. “You just have to keep them well fed. Now, Percy Jackson, let us parley.”

He waved me toward a picnic table and we sat down. Thalia and Grover stood behind me.

The blue giant propped his white flag against a tree and began absently playing on the playground. He stepped on the monkey bars and crushed them, but he didn’t seem angry. He just frowned and said, “Uh-oh.” Then he stepped in the fountain and broke the concrete bowl in half. “Uh-oh.” The water froze where his foot touched it. A bunch of stuffed animals hung from his belt—the huge kind you get for grand prizes at an arcade. He reminded me of Tyson, and the idea of fighting him made me sad.

Prometheus sat forward and laced his fingers. He looked earnest, kindly, and wise. “Percy, your position is weak. You know you can’t stop another assault.”

“We’ll see.”

Prometheus looked pained, like he really cared what happened to me. “Percy, I’m the Titan of forethought. I know what’s going to happen.”

“Also the Titan of crafty counsel,” Grover put in. “Emphasis on crafty.”

Prometheus shrugged. “True enough, satyr. But I supported the gods in the last war. I told Kronos: ‘You don’t have the strength. You’ll lose.’ And I was right. So you see, I know how to pick the winning side. This time, I’m backing Kronos.”

“Because Zeus chained you to a rock,” I guessed.

“Partly, yes. I won’t deny I want revenge. But that’s not the only reason I’m supporting Kronos. It’s the wisest choice. I’m here because I thought you might listen to reason.”

He drew a map on the table with his finger. Wherever he touched, golden lines appeared, glowing on the concrete. “This is Manhattan. We have armies here, here, here, and here. We know your numbers. We outnumber you twenty to one.”

“Your spy has been keeping you posted,” I guessed.

Prometheus smiled apologetically. “At any rate, our forces are growing daily. Tonight, Kronos will attack. You will be overwhelmed. You’ve fought bravely, but there’s just no way you can hold all of Manhattan. You’ll be forced to retreat to the Empire State Building. There you’ll be destroyed. I have seen this. It will happen.”

I thought about the picture Rachel had drawn in my dreams—an army at the base of the Empire State Building. I remembered the words of the young girl Oracle in my dream: I foresee the future. I cannot change it. Prometheus spoke with such certainty it was hard not to believe him.

“I won’t let it happen,” I said.

Prometheus brushed a speck off his tux lapel. “Understand, Percy. You are refighting the Trojan War here. Patterns repeat themselves in history. They reappear just as monsters do. A great siege. Two armies. The only difference is, this time you are defending. You are Troy. And you know what happened to the Trojans, don’t you?”

“So you’re going to cram a wooden horse into the elevator at the Empire State Building?” I asked. “Good luck.”

Prometheus smiled. “Troy was completely destroyed, Percy. You don’t want that to happen here. Stand down, and New York will be spared. Your forces will be granted amnesty. I will personally assure your safety. Let Kronos take Olympus. Who cares? Typhon will destroy the gods .my way.”

“Right,” I said. “And I’m supposed to believe Kronos would spare the city.”

“All he wants is Olympus,” Prometheus promised. “The might of the gods is tied to their seats of power. You saw what happened to Poseidon once his undersea palace was attacked.”

I winced, remembering how old and decrepit my father looked.

“Yes,” Prometheus said sadly. “I know that was hard for you. When Kronos destroys Olympus, the gods will fade. They will become so weak they will be easily defeated. Kronos would rather do this while Typhon has the Olympians distracted in the west. Much easier. Fewer lives lost. But make no mistake, the best you can do is slow us down. The day after tomorrow, Typhon arrives in New York, and you will have no chance at all. The gods and Mount Olympus will still be destroyed, but it will be much messier. Much, much worse for you and your city. Either way, the Titans will rule.”

Thalia pounded her fist on the table. “I serve Artemis. The Hunters will fight to our last breath. Percy, you’re not seriously going to listen to this slimeball, are you?”

I figured Prometheus was going to blast her, but he just smiled. “Your courage does you credit, Thalia Grace.”

Thalia stiffened. “That’s my mother’s surname. I don’t use it.”

“As you wish,” Prometheus said casually, but I could tell he’d gotten under her skin. I’d never even heard Thalia’s last name before. Somehow it made her seem almost normal. Less mysterious and powerful.

“At any rate,” the Titan said, “you need not be my enemy. I have always been a helper of mankind.”

“That’s a load of Minotaur dung,” Thalia said. “When mankind first sacrificed to the gods, you tricked them into giving you the best portion. You gave us fire to annoy the gods, not because you cared about us.”

Prometheus shook his head. “You don’t understand. I helped shape your nature.”

A wiggling lump of clay appeared in his hands. He fashioned it into a little doll with legs and arms. The lump man didn’t have any eyes, but it groped around the table, stumbling over Prometheus’s fingers. “I have been whispering in man’s ear since the beginning of your existence. I represent your curiosity, your sense of exploration, your inventiveness. Help me save you, Percy. Do this, and I will give mankind a new gift—a new revelation that will move you as far forward as fire did. You can’t make that kind of advance under the gods. They would never allow it. But this could be a new golden age for you. Or . . .” He made a fist and smashed the clay man into a pancake.

The blue giant rumbled, “Uh-oh.” Over at the park bench, the empousa bared her fangs in a smile.

“Percy, you know the Titans and their offspring are not all bad,” Prometheus said. “You’ve met Calypso.”

My face felt hot. “That’s different.”

“How? Much like me, she did nothing wrong, and yet she was exiled forever simply because she was Atlas’s daughter. We are not your enemies. Don’t let the worst happen,” he pleaded. “We offer you peace.”

I looked at Ethan Nakamura. “You must hate this.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“If we took this deal, you wouldn’t get revenge. You wouldn’t get to kill us all. Isn’t that what you want?”

His good eye flared. “All I want is respect, Jackson. The gods never gave me that. You wanted me to go to your stupid camp, spend my time crammed into the Hermes cabin because I’m not important? Not even recognized?”

He sounded just like Luke when he’d tried to kill me in the woods at camp four years ago. The memory made my hand ache where the pit scorpion had stung me.

“Your mom’s the goddess of revenge,” I told Ethan. “We should respect that?”

“Nemesis stands for balance! When people have too much good luck, she tears them down.”

“Which is why she took your eye?”

“It was payment,” he growled. “In exchange, she swore to me that one day I would tip the balance of power. I would bring the minor gods respect. An eye was a small price to pay.”

“Great mom.”

“At least she keeps her word, unlike the Olympians. She always pays her debts—good or evil.”

“Yeah,” I said. “So I saved your life, and you repaid me by raising Kronos. That’s fair.”

Ethan grabbed the hilt of his sword, but Prometheus stopped him.

“Now, now,” the Titan said. “We’re on a diplomatic mission.”

Prometheus studied me as if trying to understand my anger. Then he nodded like he’d just picked a thought from my brain.

“It bothers you what happened to Luke,” he decided. “Hestia didn’t show you the full story. Perhaps if you understood . . .”

The Titan reached out.

Thalia cried a warning, but before I could react, Prometheus’s index finger touched my forehead.

* * *

Suddenly I was back in May Castellan’s living room. Candles flickered on the fireplace mantel, reflected in the mirrors along the walls. Through the kitchen doorway I could see Thalia sitting at the table while Ms. Castellan bandaged her wounded leg. Seven-year-old Annabeth sat next to her, playing with a Medusa beanbag toy.

Hermes and Luke stood apart in the living room.

The god’s face looked liquid in the candlelight, like he couldn’t decide what shape to adopt. He was dressed in a navy blue jogging outfit with winged Reeboks.

“Why show yourself now?” Luke demanded. His shoulders were tense, as if he expected a fight. “All these years I’ve been calling to you, praying you’d show up, and nothing. You left me with her.” He pointed toward the kitchen like he couldn’t bear to look at his mother, much less say her name.

“Luke, do not dishonor her,” Hermes warned. “Your mother did the best she could. As for me, I could not interfere with your path. The children of the gods must find their own way.”

“So it was for my own good. Growing up on the streets, fending for myself, fighting monsters.”

“You’re my son,” Hermes said. “I knew you had the ability. When I was only a baby, I crawled from my cradle and set out for—”

“I’m not a god! Just once, you could’ve said something. You could’ve helped when”—he took an unsteady breath, lowering his voice so no one in the kitchen could overhear—”when she was having one of her fits, shaking me and saying crazy things about my fate. When I used to hide in the closet so she wouldn’t find me with those . . . those glowing eyes. Did you even care that I was scared? Did you even know when I finally ran away?”

In the kitchen, Ms. Castellan chattered aimlessly, pouring Kool-Aid for Thalia and Annabeth as she told them stories about Luke as a baby. Thalia rubbed her bandaged leg nervously. Annabeth glanced into the living room and held up a burned cookie for Luke to see. She mouthed, Can we go now?

“Luke, I care very much,” Hermes said slowly, “but gods must not interfere directly in mortal affairs. It is one of our Ancient Laws. Especially when your destiny . . .” His voice trailed off. He stared at the candles as if remembering something unpleasant.

“What?” Luke asked. “What about my destiny?”

“You should not have come back,” Hermes muttered. “It only upsets you both. However, I see now that you are getting too old to be on the run without help. I’ll speak with Chiron at Camp Half-Blood and ask him to send a satyr to collect you.”

“We’re doing fine without your help,” Luke growled. “Now, what were you saying about my destiny?”

The wings on Hermes’s Reeboks fluttered restlessly. He studied his son like he was trying to memorize his face, and suddenly a cold feeling washed through me. I realized Hermes knew what May Castellan’s mutterings meant. I wasn’t sure how, but looking at his face I was absolutely certain. Hermes understood what would happen to Luke someday, how he would turn evil.

“My son,” he said, “I’m the god of travelers, the god of loads. If I know anything, I know that you must walk your own path, even though it tears my heart.”

“You don’t love me.”

“I promise I . . . I do love you. Go to camp. I will see that you get a quest soon. Perhaps you can defeat the Hydra, or steal the apples of Hesperides. You will get a chance to be a great hero before . . .”

“Before what?” Luke’s voice was trembling now. “What did my mom see that made her like this? What’s going to happen to me? If you love me, tell me.”

Hermes’s expression tightened. “I cannot.”

“Then you don’t care!” Luke yelled.

In the kitchen, the talking died abruptly.

“Luke?” May Castellan called. “Is that you? Is my boy all right?”

Luke turned to hide his face, but I could see the tears in his eyes. “I’m fine. I have a new family. I don’t need either of you.”

“I’m your father,” Hermes insisted.

“A father is supposed to be around. I’ve never even met you. Thalia, Annabeth, come on! We’re leaving!”

“My boy, don’t go!” May Castellan called after him. “I have your lunch ready!”

Luke stormed out the door, Thalia and Annabeth scrambling after him. May Castellan tried to follow, but Hermes held her back.

As the screen door slammed, May collapsed in Hermes’s arms and began to shake. Her eyes opened—glowing green—and she clutched desperately at Hermes’s shoulders.

“My son,” she hissed in a dry voice. “Danger. Terrible fate!”

“I know, my love,” Hermes said sadly. “Believe me, I know.”

The image faded. Prometheus pulled his hand away from my forehead.

“Percy?” Thalia asked. “What . . . what was that?”

I realized I was clammy with sweat.

Prometheus nodded sympathetically. “Appalling, isn’t it? The gods know what is to come, and yet they do nothing, even for their children. How long did it take for them to tell you your prophecy, Percy Jackson? Don’t you think your father knows what will happen to you?”

I was too stunned to answer.

“Perrrcy,” Grover warned, “he’s playing with your mind. Trying to make you angry.”

Grover could read emotions, so he probably knew Prometheus was succeeding.

“Do you really blame your friend Luke?” the Titan asked me. “And what about you, Percy? Will you be controlled by your fate? Kronos offers you a much better deal.”

I clenched my fists. As much as I hated what Prometheus had shown me, I hated Kronos a lot more. “I’ll give you a deal. Tell Kronos to call off his attack, leave Luke Castellan’s body, and return to the pits of Tartarus. Then maybe I won’t have to destroy him,”

The empousa snarled. Her hair erupted in fresh flames, but Prometheus just sighed.

“If you change your mind,” he said, “I have a gift for you.”

A Greek vase appeared on the table. It was about three feet high and a foot wide, glazed with black-and-white geometric designs. The ceramic lid was fastened with a leather harness.

Grover whimpered when he saw it.

Thalia gasped. “That’s not—”

“Yes,” Prometheus said. “You recognize it.”

Looking at the jar, I felt a strange sense of fear, but I had no idea why.

“This belonged to my sister-in-law,” Prometheus explained. “Pandora.”

A lump formed in my throat. “As in Pandora’s box?”

Prometheus shook his head. “I don’t know how this box business got started. It was never a box. It was a pithos, a storage jar. I suppose Pandora’s pithos doesn’t have the same ring to it, but never mind that. Yes, she did open this jar, which contained most of the demons that now haunt mankind—fear, death, hunger, sickness.”

“Don’t forget me,” the empousa purred.

“Indeed,” Prometheus conceded. “The first empousa was also trapped in this jar, released by Pandora. But what I find curious about the story—Pandora always gets the blame. She is punished for being curious. The gods would have you believe that this is the lesson: mankind should not explore. They should not ask questions. They should do what they are told. In truth, Percy, this jar was a trap designed by Zeus and the other gods. It was revenge on me and my entire family—my poor simple brother Epimetheus and his wife Pandora. The gods knew she would open the jar. They were willing to punish the entire race of humanity along with us.”

I thought about my dream of Hades and Maria di Angelo. Zeus had destroyed an entire hotel to eliminate two demigod children—just to save his own skin, because he was scared of a prophecy. He’d killed an innocent woman and probably hadn’t lost any sleep over it. Hades was no better. He wasn’t powerful enough to take his revenge on Zeus, so he cursed the Oracle, dooming a young girl to a horrible fate. And Hermes . . . why had he abandoned Luke? Why hadn’t he at least warned Luke, or tried to raise him better so he wouldn’t turn evil?

Maybe Prometheus was toying with my mind.

But what if he’s right? part of me wondered. How are the gods any better than the Titans?

Prometheus tapped the lid of Pandora’s jar. “Only one spirit remained inside when Pandora opened it.”

“Hope,” I said.

Prometheus looked pleased. “Very good, Percy. Elpis, the Spirit of Hope, would not abandon humanity. Hope does not leave without being given permission. She can only be released by a child of man.”

The Titan slid the jar across the table.

“I give you this as a reminder of what the gods are like,” he said. “Keep Elpis, if you wish. But if you decide that you have seen enough destruction, enough futile suffering, then open the jar. Let Elpis go. Give up Hope, and I will know that you are surrendering. I promise Kronos will be lenient. He will spare the survivors.”

I stared at the jar and got a very bad feeling. I figured Pandora had been completely ADHD, like me. I could never leave things alone. I didn’t like temptation. What if this was my choice? Maybe the prophecy all came down to my keeping this jar closed or opening it.

“I don’t want the thing,” I growled.

“Too late,” Prometheus said. “The gift is given. It cannot be taken back.”

He stood. The empousa came forward and slipped her arm through his.

“Morrain!” Prometheus called to the blue giant. “We are leaving. Get your flag.”

“Uh-oh,” the giant said.

“We will see you soon, Percy Jackson,” Prometheus promised. “One way or another.”

Ethan Nakamura gave me one last hateful look. Then the truce party turned and strolled up the lane through Central Park, like it was just a regular sunny Sunday afternoon.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23