The Last Olympian – Chapter 14: PIGS FLY

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Chapter 14

PIGS FLY

Back at the Plaza, Thalia pulled me aside. “What did Prometheus show you?”

Reluctantly, I told her about the vision of May Castellan’s house. Thalia rubbed her thigh like she was remembering the old wound.

“That was a bad night,” she admitted. “Annabeth was so little, I don’t think she really understood what she saw. She just knew Luke was upset.”

I looked out the hotel windows at Central Park. Small fires were still burning in the north, but otherwise the city seemed unnaturally peaceful. “Do you know what happened to May Castellan? I mean—”

“I know what you mean,” Thalia said. “I never saw her have an, um, episode, but Luke told me about the glowing eyes, the strange things she would say. He made me promise never to tell. What caused it, I have no idea. If Luke knew, he never told me.”

“Hermes knew,” I said. “Something caused May to see parts of Luke’s future, and Hermes understood what would happen—how Luke would turn into Kronos.”

Thalia frowned. “You can’t be sure of that. Remember Prometheus was manipulating what you saw, Percy, showing you what happened in the worst possible light. Hermes did love Luke. I could tell just by looking at his face. And Hermes was there that night because he was checking up on May, taking care of her. He wasn’t all bad.”

“It’s still not right,” I insisted. “Luke was just a little kid. Hermes never helped him, never stopped him from running away.”

Thalia shouldered her bow. Again it struck me how much stronger she looked now that she’d stopped aging. You could almost see a silvery glow around her—the blessing of Artemis.

“Percy,” she said, “you can’t start feeling sorry for Luke. We all have tough things to deal with. All demigods do. Our parents are hardly ever around. But Luke made bad choices. Nobody forced him to do that. In fact—”

She glanced down the hall to make sure we were alone. “I’m worried about Annabeth. If she has to face Luke in battle, I don’t know if she can do it. She’s always had a soft spot for him.”

Blood rose to my face. “She’ll do fine.”

“I don’t know. After that night, after we left his mom’s house? Luke was never the same. He got reckless and moody, like he had something to prove. By the time Grover found us and tried to get us to camp . . . well, part of the reason we had so much trouble was because Luke wouldn’t be careful. He wanted to pick a fight with every monster we crossed. Annabeth didn’t see that as a problem. Luke was her hero. She only understood that his parents had made him sad, and she got very defensive of him. She still is defensive. All I’m saying . . . don’t you fall into the same trap. Luke has given himself to Kronos now. We can’t afford to be soft on him.”

I looked out at the fires in Harlem, wondering how many sleeping mortals were in danger right now because of Luke’s bad choices.

“You’re right,” I said.

Thalia patted my shoulder. “I’m going to check on the Hunters, then get some more sleep before nightfall. You should crash too.”

“The last thing I need is more dreams.”

“I know, believe me.” Her dark expression made me wonder what she’d been dreaming about. It was a common demigod problem: the more dangerous our situation became, the worse and more frequent our dreams got. “But Percy, there’s no telling when you’ll get another chance for rest. It’s going to be a long night—maybe our last night.”

I didn’t like it, but I knew she was right. I nodded wearily and gave her Pandora’s jar. “Do me a favor. Lock this in the hotel vault, will you? I think I’m allergic to pithos.”

Thalia smiled. “You got it.”

I found the nearest bed and passed out. But of course sleep only brought more nightmares.

I saw the undersea palace of my father. The enemy army was closer now, entrenched only a few hundred yards outside the palace. The fortress walls were completely destroyed. The temple my dad had used as his headquarters was burning with Greek fire.

I zoomed in on the armory, where my brother and some other Cyclopes were on lunch break, eating from huge jars of Skippy extra-chunky peanut butter (and don’t ask me how it tasted underwater, because I don’t want to know). As I watched, the outer wall of the armory exploded. A Cyclops warrior stumbled inside, collapsing on the lunch table. Tyson knelt down to help, but it was too late. The Cyclops dissolved into sea silt.

Enemy giants moved toward the breach, and Tyson picked up the fallen warrior’s club. He yelled something to his fellow blacksmiths—probably “For Poseidon!”—but with his mouth full of peanut butter it sounded like “PUH PTEH BUN!” His brethren all grabbed hammers and chisels, yelled, “PEANUT BUTTER!” and charged behind Tyson into battle.

Then the scene shifted. I was with Ethan Nakamura at the enemy camp. What I saw made me shiver, partly because the army was so huge, partly because I recognized the place.

We were in the backwoods of New Jersey, on a crumbling road lined with run-down businesses and tattered billboard signs. A trampled fence ringed a big yard full of cement statuary. The sign above the warehouse was hard to read because it was in red cursive, but I knew what it said: AUNTY EM’S GARDEN GNOME EMPORIUM.

I hadn’t thought about the place in years. It was clearly abandoned. The statues were broken and spray-painted with graffiti. A cement satyr—Grover’s Uncle Ferdinand—had lost his arm. Part of the warehouse roof had caved in. A big yellow sign pasted on the door read: CONDEMNED.

Hundreds of tents and fires surrounded the property. Mostly I saw monsters, but there were some human mercenaries in combat fatigues and demigods in armor, too. A purple-and-black banner hung outside the emporium, guarded by two huge blue Hyperboreans.

Ethan was crouched at the nearest campfire. A couple of other demigods sat with him, sharpening their swords. The doors of the warehouse opened, and Prometheus stepped out.

“Nakamura,” he called. “The master would like to speak to you.”

Ethan stood up warily. “Something wrong?”

Prometheus smiled. “You’ll have to ask him.”

One of the other demigods snickered. “Nice knowing you.”

Ethan readjusted his sword belt and headed into the warehouse.

Except for the hole in the roof, the place was just as 1 remembered. Statues of terrified people stood frozen in midscream. In the snack bar area, the picnic tables had been moved aside. Right between the soda dispenser and pretzel warmer stood a golden throne. Kronos lounged on it, his scythe across his lap. He wore jeans and a T-shirt, and with his brooding expression he looked almost human—like the younger version of Luke I’d seen in the vision, pleading with Hermes to tell him his fate. Then Luke saw Ethan, and his face contorted into a very inhuman smile. His golden eyes glowed.

“Well, Nakamura. What did you think of the diplomatic mission?”

Ethan hesitated. “I’m sure Lord Prometheus is better suited to speak—”

“But I asked you.”

Ethan’s good eye darted back and forth, noting the guards that stood around Kronos. “I . . . I don’t think Jackson will surrender. Ever.”

Kronos nodded. “Anything else you wanted to tell me?”

“N-no, sir.

“You look nervous, Ethan.”

“No, sir. It’s just . . . I heard this was the lair of —”

“Medusa? Yes, quite true. Lovely place, eh? Unfortunately, Medusa hasn’t re-formed since Jackson killed her, so you needn’t worry about joining her collection. Besides, there are much more dangerous forces in this room.”

Kronos looked over at a Laistrygonian giant who was munching noisily on some french fries. Kronos waved his hand and the giant froze. A french fry hung suspended in midair halfway between his hand and his mouth.

“Why turn them to stone,” Kronos asked, “when you can freeze time itself?”

His golden eyes bored into Ethan’s face. “Now, tell me one more thing. What happened last night on the Williamsburg Bridge?”

Ethan trembled. Beads of perspiration were popping up on his forehead. “I . . . I don’t know, sir.”

“Yes, you do.” Kronos rose from his seat. “When you attacked Jackson, something happened. Something was not quite right. The girl, Annabeth, jumped in your way.”

“She wanted to save him.”

“But he is invulnerable,” Kronos said quietly. “You saw that yourself.”

“I can’t explain it. Maybe she forgot.”

“She forgot,” Kronos said. “Yes, that must’ve been it. Oh dear, I forgot my friend is invulnerable and took a knife for him. Oops. Tell me, Ethan, where were you aiming when you stabbed at Jackson?”

Ethan frowned. He clasped his hand as if he were holding a blade, and mimed a thrust. “I’m not sure, sir. It all happened so fast. I wasn’t aiming for any spot in particular.’

Kronos’s fingers tapped the blade of his scythe. “I see,” he said in a chilly tone. “If your memory improves, I will expect—”

Suddenly the Titan lord winced. The giant in the corner unfroze and the french fry fell into his mouth. Kronos stumbled backward and sank into his throne.

“My lord?” Ethan started forward.

“I—” The voice was weak, but just for a moment it was Luke’s. Then Kronos’s expression hardened. He raised his hand and flexed his fingers slowly as if forcing them to obey.

“It is nothing,” he said, his voice steely and cold again. “A minor discomfort.”

Ethan moistened his lips. “He’s still fighting you, isn’t he? Luke—”

“Nonsense,” Kronos spat. “Repeat that lie, and I will cut out your tongue. The boy’s soul has been crushed. I am simply adjusting to the limits of this form. It requires rest. It is annoying, but no more than a temporary inconvenience.”

“As . . . as you say, my lord.”

“You!” Kronos pointed his scythe at a dracaena with green armor and a green crown. “Queen Sess, is it?”

“Yesssss, my lord.”

“Is our little surprise ready to be unleashed?”

The dracaena queen bared her fangs. “Oh, yessss, my lord. Quite a lovely sssssurprissse.”

“Excellent,” Kronos said. “Tell my brother Hyperion to move our main force south into Central Park. The half-bloods will be in such disarray they will not be able to defend themselves. Go now, Ethan. Work on improving your memory. We will talk again when we have taken Manhattan.”

Ethan bowed, and my dreams shifted one last time. I saw the Big House at camp, but it was a different era. The house was painted red instead of blue. The campers down at the volleyball pit had early ’90s hairstyles, which were probably good for keeping monsters away.

Chiron stood by the porch, talking to Hermes and a woman holding a baby. Chiron’s hair was shorter and darker. Hermes wore his usual jogging suit with his winged high-tops. The woman was tall and pretty. She had blond hair, shining eyes and a friendly smile. The baby in her arms squirmed in his blue blanket like Camp Half-Blood was the last place he wanted to be.

“It’s an honor to have you here,” Chiron told the woman, though he sounded nervous. “It’s been a long time since a mortal was allowed at camp.”

“Don’t encourage her,” Hermes grumbled. “May, you can’t do this.”

With a shock, I realized I was seeing May Castellan. She looked nothing like the old woman I’d met. She seemed full of life—the kind of person who could smile and make everyone around her feel good.

“Oh, don’t worry so much,” May said, rocking the baby. “You need an Oracle, don’t you? The old one’s been dead for, what, twenty years?”

“Longer,” Chiron said gravely.

Hermes raised his arms in exasperation. “I didn’t tell you that story so you could apply. It’s dangerous. Chiron, tell her.”

“It is,” Chiron warned. “For many years, I have forbidden anyone from trying. We don’t know exactly what’s happened. Humanity seems to have lost the ability to host the Oracle.”

“We’ve been through that,” May said. “And I know I can do it. Hermes, this is my chance to do something good. I’ve been given the gift of sight for a reason.”

I wanted to yell at May Castellan to stop. I knew what was about to happen. I finally understood how her life had been destroyed. But I couldn’t move or speak.

Hermes looked more hurt than worried. “You couldn’t marry if you became the Oracle,” he complained. “You couldn’t see me anymore.”

May put her hand on his arm. “I can’t have you forever, can I? You’ll move on soon. You’re immortal.”

He started to protest, but she put her hand on his chest. “You know it’s true! Don’t try to spare my feelings. Besides, we have a wonderful child. I can still raise Luke if I’m the Oracle, right?”

Chiron coughed. “Yes, but in all fairness, I don’t know how that will affect the spirit of the Oracle. A woman who has already borne a child—as far as I know, this has never been done before. If the spirit does not take—”

“It will,” May insisted.

No, I wanted to shout. It won’t.

May Castellan kissed her baby and handed the bundle to Hermes. “I’ll be right back.”

She gave them one last confident smile and climbed the steps.

Chiron and Hermes paced in silence. The baby squirmed.

A green glow lit the windows of the house. The campers stopped playing volleyball and stared up at the attic. A cold wind rushed through the strawberry fields.

Hermes must’ve felt it too. He cried, “No! NO!”

He shoved the baby into Chiron’s arms and ran for the porch. Before he reached the door, the sunny afternoon was shattered by May Castellan’s terrified scream.

I got up so fast I banged my head on somebody’s shield.

“Ow!”

“Sorry, Percy.” Annabeth was standing over me. “I was just about to wake you.”

I rubbed my head, trying to clear the disturbing visions. Suddenly a lot of things made sense to me: May Castellan had tried to become the Oracle. She hadn’t known about Hades’s curse preventing the spirit of Delphi from taking another host. Neither had Chiron or Hermes. They hadn’t realized that by trying to take the job, May would be driven mad, plagued with fits in which her eyes would glow green and she would have shattered glimpses of her child’s future.

“Percy?” Annabeth asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I lied. “What . . . what are you doing in armor? You should be resting.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said, though she still looked pale. She was barely moving her right arm. “That nectar and ambrosia fixed me up.”

“Uh-huh. You can’t seriously go out and fight.”

She offered me her good hand and helped me up. My head was pounding. Outside, the sky was purple and red.

“You’re going to need every person you have,” she said. “I just looked in my shield. There’s an army—”

“Heading south into Central Park,” I said. “Yeah, I know.”

I told her part of my dreams. I left out the vision of May Castellan, because it was too disturbing to talk about. I also left out Ethan’s speculation about Luke fighting Kronos inside his body. I didn’t want to get Annabeth’s hopes up.

“Do you think Ethan suspects about your weak spot?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “He didn’t tell Kronos anything, but if he figures it out—”

“We can’t let him.”

“I’ll bonk him on the head harder next time,” I suggested. “Any idea what surprise Kronos was talking about?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t see anything in the shield, but I don’t like surprises.”

“Agreed.”

“So,” she said, “are you going to argue about me coming along?”

“Nah. You’d just beat me up.”

She managed a laugh, which was good to hear. I grabbed my sword, and we went to rally the troops.

Thalia and the head counselors were waiting for us at the Reservoir. The lights of the city were blinking on at twilight. I guess a lot of them were on automatic timers. Streetlamps glowed around the shore of the lake, making the water and trees look even spookier.

“They’re coming,” Thalia confirmed, pointing north with a silver arrow. “One of my scouts just reported they’ve crossed the Harlem River. There was no way to hold them back. The army . . .” She shrugged. “It’s huge.”

“We’ll hold them at the park,” I said. “Grover, you ready?”

He nodded. “As ready as we’ll ever be. If my nature spirits can stop them anywhere, this is the place.”

“Yes, we will!” said another voice. A very old, fat satyr pushed through the crowd, stumbling over his own spear. He was dressed in wood-bark armor that only covered half of his belly.

“Leneus?” I said.

“Don’t act so surprised,” he huffed. “I am a leader of the Council, and you did tell me to find Grover. Well, I found him, and I’m not going to let a mere outcast lead the satyrs without my help!”

Behind Leneus’s back, Grover made gagging motions, but the old satyr grinned like he was the savior of the day. “Never fear! We’ll show those Titans!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry, but I managed to keep a straight face. “Um . . . yeah. Well, Grover, you won’t be alone. Annabeth and the Athena cabin will make their stand here. And me, and . . . Thalia?”

She patted me on the shoulder. “Say no more. The Hunters are ready.”

I looked at the other counselors. “That leaves the rest of you with a job just as important. You have to guard the other entrances to Manhattan. You know how tricky Kronos is. He’ll hope to distract us with this big army and sneak another force in somewhere else. It’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen. Has each cabin chosen a bridge or tunnel?”

The counselors nodded grimly.

“Then let’s do it,” I said. “Good hunting, everybody!”

We heard the army before we saw it.

The noise was like a cannon barrage combined with a football stadium crowd—like every Patriots fan in New England was charging us with bazookas.

At the north end of the reservoir, the enemy vanguard broke through the woods—a warrior in golden armor leading a battalion of Laistrygonian giants with huge bronze axes. Hundreds of other monsters poured out behind them.

“Positions!” Annabeth yelled.

Her cabinmates scrambled. The idea was to make the enemy army break around the reservoir. To get to us, they’d have to follow the trails, which meant they’d be marching in narrow columns on either side of the water.

At first, the plan seemed to work. The enemy divided and streamed toward us along the shore. When they were halfway across, our defenses kicked in. The jogging trail erupted in Greek fire, incinerating many of the monsters instantly. Others flailed around, engulfed in green flames. Athena campers threw grappling hooks around the largest giants and pulled them to the ground.

In the woods on the right, the Hunters sent a volley of silver arrows into the enemy line, destroying twenty or thirty dracaenae, but more marched behind them. A bolt of lightning crackled out of the sky and fried a Laistrygonian giant to ashes, and I knew Thalia must be doing her daughter of Zeus thing.

Grover raised his pipes and played a quick tune. A roar went up from the woods on both sides as every tree, rock, and bush seemed to sprout a spirit. Dryads and satyrs raised their clubs and charged. The trees wrapped around the monsters, strangling them. Grass grew around the feet of the enemy archers. Stones flew up and hit dracaenae in the faces.

The enemy slogged forward. Giants smashed through the trees, and naiads faded as their life sources were destroyed. Hellhounds lunged at the timber wolves, knocking them aside. Enemy archers returned fire, and a Hunter fell from a high branch.

“Percy!” Annabeth grabbed my arm and pointed at the reservoir. The Titan in the gold armor wasn’t waiting for his forces to advance around the sides. He was charging toward us, walking straight over the top of the lake.

A Greek firebomb exploded right on top of him, but he raised his palm and sucked the flames out of the air.

“Hyperion,” Annabeth said in awe. “The lord of light. Titan of the east.”

“Bad?” I guessed.

“Next to Atlas, he’s the greatest Titan warrior. In the old days, four Titans controlled the four corners of the world. Hyperion was the east—the most powerful. He was the father of Helios, the first sun god.”

“I’ll keep him busy,” I promised.

“Percy, even you can’t—”

“Just keep our forces together.”

We’d set up at the reservoir for good reason. I concentrated on the water and felt its power surging through me.

I advanced toward Hyperion, running over the top of the water. Yeah, buddy. Two can play that game.

Twenty feet away, Hyperion raised his sword. His eyes were just like I’d seen in my dream—as gold as Kronos’s but brighter, like miniature suns.

“The sea god’s brat,” he mused. “You’re the one who trapped Atlas beneath the sky again?”

“It wasn’t hard,” I said. “You Titans are about as bright as my gym socks.”

Hyperion snarled. “You want bright?”

His body ignited in a column of light and heat. I looked away, but I was still blinded.

Instinctively I raised Riptide—just in time. Hyperion’s blade slammed against mine. The shock wave sent a ten-foot ring of water across the surface of the lake.

My eyes still burned. I had to shut off his light.

I concentrated on the tidal wave and forced it to reverse. Just before impact, I jumped upward on a jet of water.

“AHHHHH!” The waves smashed into Hyperion and he went under, his light extinguished.

I landed on the lake’s surface just as Hyperion struggled to his feet. His golden armor was dripping wet. His eyes no longer blazed, but they still looked murderous.

“You will burn, Jackson!” he roared.

Our swords met again and the air charged with ozone.

The battle still raged around us. On the right flank, Annabeth was leading an assault with her siblings. On the left flank, Grover and his nature spirits were regrouping, entangling the enemies with bushes and weeds.

“Enough games,” Hyperion told me. “We fight on land.”

I was about to make some clever comment, like “No,” when the Titan yelled. A wall of force slammed me through the air—just like the trick Kronos had pulled on the bridge. I sailed backward about three hundred yards and smashed into the ground. If it hadn’t been for my new invulnerability, I would’ve broken every bone in my body.

I got to my feet, groaning. “I really hate it when you Titans do that.”

Hyperion closed on me with blinding speed.

I concentrated on the water, drawing strength from it.

Hyperion attacked. He was powerful and fast, but he couldn’t seem to land a blow. The ground around his feet kept erupting in flames, but I kept dousing it just as quickly.

“Stop it!” the Titan roared. “Stop that wind!”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. I was too busy fighting.

Hyperion stumbled like he was being pushed away. Water sprayed his face, stinging his eyes. The wind picked up, and Hyperion staggered backward.

“Percy!” Grover called in amazement. “How are you doing that?”

Doing what? I thought.

Then I looked down, and I realized I was standing in the middle of my own personal hurricane. Clouds of water vapor swirled around me, winds so powerful they buffeted Hyperion and flattened the grass in a twenty-yard radius. Enemy warriors threw javelins at me, but the storm knocked them aside.

“Sweet,” I muttered. “But a little more!”

Lightning flickered around me. The clouds darkened and the rain swirled faster. I closed in on Hyperion and blew him off his feet.

“Percy!” Grover called again. “Bring him over here!”

I slashed and jabbed, letting my reflexes take over, Hyperion could barely defend himself. His eyes kept trying to ignite, but the hurricane quenched his flames.

I couldn’t keep up a storm like this forever, though. I could feel my powers weakening. With one last effort, I propelled Hyperion across the field, straight to where Grover was waiting.

“I will not be toyed with!” Hyperion bellowed.

He managed to get to his feet again, but Grover put his reed pipes to his lips and began to play. Leneus joined him. Around the grove, every satyr took up the song—an eerie melody, like a creek flowing over stones. The ground erupted at Hyperion’s feet. Gnarled roots wrapped around his legs.

“What’s this?” he protested. He tried to shake off the roots, but he was still weak. The roots thickened until he looked like he was wearing wooden boots.

“Stop this!” he shouted. “Your woodland magic is no match for a Titan!”

But the more he struggled, the faster the roots grew. They curled about his body, thickening and hardening into bark. His golden armor melted into the wood, becoming part of a large trunk.

The music continued. Hyperion’s forces backed up in astonishment as their leader was absorbed. He stretched out his arms and they became branches, from which smaller branches shot out and grew leaves. The tree grew taller and thicker, until only the Titan’s face was visible in the middle of the trunk.

“You cannot imprison me!” he bellowed. “I am Hyperion! I am—”

The bark closed over his face.

Grover took his pipes from his mouth. “You are a very nice maple tree.”

Several of the other satyrs passed out from exhaustion, but they’d done their job well. The Titan lord was completely encased in an enormous maple. The trunk was at least twenty feet in diameter, with branches as tall as any in the park. The tree might’ve stood there for centuries.

The Titan’s army started to retreat. A cheer went up from the Athena cabin, but our victory was short-lived.

Because just then Kronos unleashed his surprise.

“REEEEET!”

The squeal echoed through upper Manhattan. Demigods and monsters alike froze in terror.

Grover shot me a panicked look. “Why does that sound like . . . It can’t be!”

I knew what he was thinking. Two years ago we’d gotten a “gift” from Pan—a huge boar that carried us across the Southwest (after it tried to kill us). The boar had a similar squeal, but what we were hearing now seemed higher pitched, shriller, almost like . . . like if the boar had an angry girlfriend.

“REEEEEET!” A huge pink creature soared over the reservoir—a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade nightmare blimp with wings.

“A sow!” Annabeth cried. “Take cover!”

The demigods scattered as the winged lady pig swooped down. Her wings were pink like a flamingo’s, which matched her skin beautifully, but it was hard to think of her as cute when her hooves slammed into the ground, barely missing one of Annabeth’s siblings. The pig stomped around and tore down half an acre of trees, belching a cloud of noxious gas. Then it took off again, circling around for another strike.

“Don’t tell me that thing is from Greek mythology,” I complained.

“Afraid so,” Annabeth said. “The Clazmonian Sow. It terrorized Greek towns back in the day.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “Hercules beat it.”

“Nope,” Annabeth said. “As far as I know, no hero has ever beaten it.”

“Perfect,” I muttered.

The Titan’s army was recovering from its shock. I guess they realized the pig wasn’t after them.

We only had seconds before they were ready to fight, and our forces were still in a panic. Every time the sow belched, Grover’s nature spirits yelped and faded back into their trees.

“That pig has to go.” I grabbed a grappling hook from one of Annabeth’s siblings. “I’ll take care of it. You guys hold the rest of the enemy. Push them back!”

“But, Percy,” Grover said, “what if we can’t?”

I saw how tired he was. The magic had really drained him. Annabeth didn’t look much better from fighting with a bad shoulder wound. I didn’t know how the Hunters were doing, but the right flank of the enemy army was now between them and us.

I didn’t want to leave my friends in such bad shape, but that sow was the biggest threat. It would destroy everything: buildings, trees, sleeping mortals. It had to be stopped.

“Retreat if you need to,” I said. “Just slow them down. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Before I could change my mind, I swung the grappling hook like a lasso. When the sow came down for its next pass, I threw with all my strength. The hook wrapped around the base of the pig’s wing. It squealed in rage and veered off, yanking the rope and me into the sky.

If you’re heading downtown from Central Park, my advice is to take the subway. Flying pigs are faster, but way more dangerous.

The sow soared past the Plaza Hotel, straight into the canyon of Fifth Avenue. My brilliant plan was to climb the rope and get on the pig’s back. Unfortunately I was too busy swinging around dodging streetlamps and the sides of buildings.

Another thing I learned: it’s one thing to climb a rope in gym class. It’s a completely different thing to climb a rope attached to a moving pig’s wing while you’re flying at a hundred miles an hour.

We zigzagged along several blocks and continued south on Park Avenue.

Boss! Hey, boss! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Blackjack speeding along next to us, darting back and forth to avoid the pig’s wings.

“Watch out!” I told him.

Hop on! Blackjack whinnied. I can catch you . . . probably.

That wasn’t very reassuring. Grand Central lay dead ahead. Above the main entrance stood the giant statue of Hermes, which I guess hadn’t been activated because it was so high up. I was flying right toward him at the speed of demigod-smashing.

“Stay alert!” I told Blackjack. “I’ve got an idea.”

Oh, I hate your ideas.

I swung outward with all my might. Instead of smashing into the Hermes statue, I whipped around it, circling the rope under its arms. I thought this would tether the pig, but I’d underestimated the momentum of a thirty-ton sow in flight. Just as the pig wrenched the statue loose from its pedestal, I let go. Hermes went for a ride, taking my place as the pig’s passenger, and I free-fell toward the street.

In that split second I thought about the days when my mom used to work at the Grand Central candy shop. I thought how bad it would be if I ended up as a grease spot on the pavement.

Then a shadow swooped under me, and thump—I was on Blackjack’s back. It wasn’t the most comfortable landing. In fact, when I yelled “OW!” my voice was an octave higher than usual.

Sorry, boss, Blackjack murmured.

“No problem,” I squeaked. “Follow that pig!”

The porker had taken a right at East 42nd and was flying back toward Fifth Avenue. When it flew above the rooftops, I could see fires here and there around the city. It looked like my friends were having a rough time. Kronos was attacking on several fronts. But at the moment, I had my own problems.

The Hermes statue was still on its leash. It kept bonking into buildings and spinning around. The pig swooped over an office building, and Hermes plowed into a water tower on the roof, blasting water and wood everywhere.

Then something occurred to me.

“Get closer,” I told Blackjack.

He whinnied in protest.

“Just within shouting distance,” I said. “I need to talk to the statue.”

Now I’m sure you’ve lost it, boss, Blackjack said, but he did what I asked. When I was close enough to see the statue’s face clearly, I yelled, “Hello, Hermes! Command sequence: Daedalus Twenty-three. Kill Flying Pigs! Begin Activation!”

Immediately the statue moved its legs. It seemed confused to find that it was no longer on top of Grand Central Terminal. It was, instead, being given a sky-ride on the end of a rope by a large winged sow. It smashed through the side of a brick building, which I think made it a little mad. It shook its head and began to climb the rope.

I glanced down at the street. We were coming up on the main public library, with the big marble lions flanking the steps. Suddenly I had a weird thought: Could stone statues be automatons too? It seemed like a long shot, but . . .

“Faster!” I told Blackjack. “Get in front of the pig, Taunt him!”

Um, boss—

“Trust me,” I said. “I can do this . . . probably.”

Oh, sure. Mock the horse.

Blackjack burst through the air. He could fly pretty darned fast when he wanted to. He got in front of the pig, which now had a metal Hermes on its back.

Blackjack whinnied, You smell like ham! He kicked the pig in the snout with his back hooves and went into a steep dive. The pig screamed in rage and followed.

We barreled straight for the front steps of the library. Blackjack slowed down just enough for me to hop off, then he kept flying toward the main doors.

I yelled out, “Lions! Command sequence: Daedalus Twenty-three. Kill Flying Pigs! Begin Activation!”

The lions stood up and looked at me. They probably thought I was teasing them. But just then: “REEEEEET!”

The massive pink pork monster landed with a thud, cracking the sidewalk. The lions stared at it, not believing their luck, and pounced. At the same time, a very beat-up Hermes statue leaped onto the pig’s head and started banging it mercilessly with a caduceus. Those lions had some nasty claws.

I drew Riptide, but there wasn’t much for me to do. The pig disintegrated before my eyes. I almost felt sorry for it. I hoped it got to meet the boar of its dreams down in Tartarus.

When the monster had completely turned to dust, the lions and the Hermes statue looked around in confusion.

“You can defend Manhattan now,” I told them, but they didn’t seem to hear. They went charging down Park Avenue, and I imagined they would keep looking for flying pigs until someone deactivated them.

Hey, boss, said Blackjack. Can we take a donut break?

I wiped the sweat off my brow. “I wish, big guy, but the fight’s still going on.”

In fact, I could hear it getting closer. My friends needed help. I jumped on Blackjack, and we flew north toward the sound of explosions.

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