The Last Olympian – Chapter 15: CHIRON THROWS A PARTY

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Chapter 15

CHIRON THROWS A

PARTY

Midtown was a war zone. We flew over little skirmishes everywhere. A giant was ripping up trees in Bryant Park while dryads pelted him with nuts. Outside the Waldorf Astoria, a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin was whacking a hellhound with a rolled-up newspaper. A trio of Hephaestus campers fought a squad of dracaenae in the middle of Rockefeller Center.

I was tempted to stop and help, but I could tell from the smoke and noise that the real action had moved farther south. Our defenses were collapsing. The enemy was closing in on the Empire State Building.

We did a quick sweep of the surrounding area. The Hunters had set up a defensive line on 37th, just three blocks north of Olympus. To the east on Park Avenue, Jake Mason and some other Hephaestus campers were leading an army of statues against the enemy. To the west, the Demeter cabin and Grover’s nature spirits had turned Sixth Avenue into a jungle that was hampering a squadron of Kronos’s demigods. The south was clear for now, but the flanks of the enemy army were swinging around. A few more minutes and we’d be totally surrounded.

“We have to land where they need us most,” I muttered.

That’s everywhere, boss.

I spotted a familiar silver owl banner in the southeast corner of the fight, 33rd at the Park Avenue tunnel. Annabeth and two of her siblings were holding back a Hyperborean giant.

“There!” I told Blackjack. He plunged toward the battle.

I leaped off his back and landed on the giant’s head. When the giant looked up, I slid off his face, shield-bashing his nose on the way down.

“RAWWWR!’ The giant staggered backward, blue blood trickling from his nostrils.

I hit the pavement running. The Hyperborean breathed a cloud of white mist, and the temperature dropped. The spot where I’d landed was now coated with ice, and I was covered in frost like a sugar donut.

“Hey, ugly!” Annabeth yelled. I hoped she was talking to the giant, not me.

Blue Boy bellowed and turned toward her, exposing the unprotected back of his legs. I charged and stabbed him behind the knee.

“WAAAAH!” The Hyperborean buckled. I waited for him to turn, but he froze. I mean he literally turned to solid ice. From the point where I’d stabbed him, cracks appeared in his body. They got larger and wider until the giant crumbled in a mountain of blue shards.

“Thanks.” Annabeth winced, trying to catch her breath. “The pig?”

“Pork chops,” I said.

“Good.” She flexed her shoulder. Obviously, the wound was still bothering her, but she saw my expression and rolled her eyes. “I’m fine, Percy. Come on! We’ve got plenty of enemies left.”

She was right. The next hour was a blur. I fought like I’d never fought before—wading into legions of dracaenae, taking out dozens of telkhines with every strike, destroying empousai and knocking out enemy demigods. No matter how many I defeated, more took their place.

Annabeth and I raced from block to block, trying to shore up our defenses. Too many of our friends lay wounded in the streets. Too many were missing.

As the night wore on and the moon got higher, we were backed up foot by foot until we were only a block from the Empire State Building in any direction. At one point Grover was next to me, bonking snake women over the head with his cudgel. Then he disappeared in the crowd, and it was Thalia at my side, driving the monsters back with the power of her magic shield. Mrs. O’Leary bounded out of nowhere, picked up a Laistrygonian giant in her mouth, and flung him into the air like a Frisbee. Annabeth used her invisibility cap to sneak behind the enemy lines. Whenever a monster disintegrated for no apparent reason with a surprised look on his face, I knew Annabeth had been there.

But it still wasn’t enough.

“Hold your lines!” Katie Gardner shouted, somewhere off to my left.

The problem was there were too few of us to hold anything. The entrance to Olympus was twenty feet behind me. A ring of brave demigods, Hunters, and nature spirits guarded the doors. I slashed and hacked, destroying everything in my path, but even I was getting tired, and I couldn’t be everywhere at once.

Behind the enemy troops, a few blocks to the east, a bright light began to shine. I thought it was the sunrise. Then I realized Kronos was riding toward us on a golden chariot. A dozen Laistrygonian giants bore torches before him. Two Hyperboreans carried his black-and-purple banners. The Titan lord looked fresh and rested, his powers at full strength. He was taking his time advancing, letting me wear myself down.

Annabeth appeared next to me. “We have to fall back to the doorway. Hold it at all costs!”

She was right. I was about to order a retreat when I heard the hunting horn.

It cut through the noise of the battle like a fire alarm. A chorus of horns answered from all around us, echoing off the buildings of Manhattan.

I glanced at Thalia, but she just frowned.

“Not the Hunters,” she assured me. “We’re all here.”

“Then who?”

The horns got louder. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from because of the echo, but it sounded like an entire army was approaching.

I was afraid it might be more enemies, but Kronos’s forces looked as confused as we were. Giants lowered their clubs. Dracaenae hissed. Even Kronos’s honor guard looked uneasy.

Then, to our left, a hundred monsters cried out at once. Kronos’s entire northern flank surged forward. I thought we were doomed, but they didn’t attack. They ran straight past us and crashed into their southern allies.

A new blast of horns shattered the night. The air shimmered. In a blur of movement, an entire cavalry appeared as if dropping out of light speed.

“Yeah, baby!” a voice wailed. “PARTY!”

A shower of arrows arced over our heads and slammed into the enemy, vaporizing hundreds of demons. But these weren’t regular arrows. They made whizzy sounds as they flew, like WHEEEEEE! Some had pinwheels attached to them. Others had boxing gloves rather than points.

“Centaurs!” Annabeth yelled.

The Party Pony army exploded into our midst in a riot of colors: tie-dyed shirts, rainbow Afro wigs, oversize sunglasses, and war-painted faces. Some had slogans scrawled across their flanks like HORSEZ PWN or KRONOS SUX.

Hundreds of them filled the entire block. My brain couldn’t process everything I saw, but I knew if I were the enemy, I’d be running.

“Percy!” Chiron shouted across the sea of wild centaurs. He was dressed in armor from the waist up, his bow in his hand, and he was grinning in satisfaction. “Sorry we’re late!”

“DUDE!” Another centaur yelled. “Talk later. WASTE MONSTERS NOW!”

He locked and loaded a double-barrel paint gun and blasted an enemy hellhound bright pink. The paint must’ve been mixed with Celestial bronze dust or something, because as soon as it splattered the hellhound, the monster yelped and dissolved into a pink-and-black puddle.

“PARTY PONIES.'” a centaur yelled. “SOUTH FLORIDA!”

Somewhere across the battlefield, a twangy voice yelled back, “HEART OF TEXAS CHAPTER!”

“HAWAII OWNS YOUR FACES!” a third one shouted.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The entire Titan army turned and fled, pushed back by a flood of paintballs, arrows, swords, and NERF baseball bats. The centaurs trampled everything in their path.

“Stop running, you fools!” Kronos yelled. “Stand and ACKK!”

That last part was because a panicked Hyperborean giant stumbled backward and sat on top of him. The lord of time disappeared under a giant blue butt.

We pushed them for several blocks until Chiron yelled, “HOLD! On your promise, HOLD!”

It wasn’t easy, but eventually the order got relayed up and down the ranks of centaurs, and they started to pull back, letting the enemy flee.

“Chiron’s smart,” Annabeth said, wiping the sweat off her face. “If we pursue, we’ll get too spread out. We need to regroup.”

“But the enemy—”

“They’re not defeated,” she agreed. “But the dawn is coming. At least we’ve bought some time.”

I didn’t like pulling back, but I knew she was right. I watched as the last of the telkhines scuttled toward the East River. Then reluctantly I turned and headed back toward the Empire State Building.

We set up a two-block perimeter, with a command tent at the Empire State Building. Chiron informed us that the Party Ponies had sent chapters from almost every state in the Union: forty from California, two from Rhode Island, thirty from Illinois . . . Roughly five hundred total had answered his call, but even with that many, we couldn’t defend more than a few blocks.

“Dude,” said a centaur named Larry. His T-shirt identified him as BIG CHIEF UBER GUY, NEW MEXICO CHAPTER. “That was more fun than our last convention in Vegas!”

“Yeah,” said Owen from South Dakota. He wore a black leather jacket and an old WWII army helmet. “We totally wasted them!”

Chiron patted Owen on the back. “You did well, my friends, but don’t get careless. Kronos should never be underestimated. Now why don’t you visit the diner on West 33rd and get some breakfast? I hear the Delaware chapter found a stash of root beer.”

“Root beer!” They almost trampled each other as they galloped off.

Chiron smiled. Annabeth gave him a big hug, and Mrs. O’Leary licked his face.

“Ack,” he grumbled. “Enough of that, dog. Yes, I’m glad to see you too.”

“Chiron, thanks,” I said. “Talk about saving the day.”

He shrugged. “I’m sorry it took so long. Centaurs travel fast, as you know. We can bend distance as we ride. Even so, getting all the centaurs together was no easy task. The Party Ponies are not exactly organized.”

“How’d you get through the magic defenses around the city?” Annabeth asked.

“They slowed us down a bit,” Chiron admitted, “but I think they’re intended mostly to keep mortals out. Kronos doesn’t want puny humans getting in the way of his great victory.”

“So maybe other reinforcements can get through,” I said hopefully.

Chiron stroked his beard. “Perhaps, though time is short. As soon as Kronos regroups, he will attack again. Without the element of surprise on our side . . .”

I understood what he meant. Kronos wasn’t beaten. Not by a long shot. I half hoped Kronos had been squashed under that Hyperborean giant’s butt, but I knew better. He’d be back, tonight at the latest.

“And Typhon?” I asked.

Chiron’s face darkened. “The gods are tiring. Dionysus was incapacitated yesterday. Typhon smashed his chariot, and the wine god went down somewhere in the Appalachians. No one has seen him since. Hephaestus is out of action as well. He was thrown from the battle so hard he created a new lake in West Virginia. He will heal, but not soon enough to help. The others still fight. They’ve managed to slow Typhon’s approach. But the monster can not be stopped. He will arrive in New York by this time tomorrow. Once he and Kronos combine forces—”

“Then what chance do we have?” I said. “We can’t hold out another day.”

“We’ll have to,” Thalia said. “I’ll see about setting some new traps around the perimeter.”

She looked exhausted. Her jacket was smeared in grime and monster dust, but she managed to get to her feet and stagger off.

“I will help her,” Chiron decided. “I should make sure my brethren don’t go too overboard with the root beer.”

I thought “too overboard” pretty much summed up the Party Ponies, but Chiron cantered off, leaving Annabeth and me alone.

She cleaned the monster slime off her knife. I’d seen her do that hundreds of times, but I’d never thought about why she cared so much about the blade.

“At least your mom is okay,” I offered.

“If you call fighting Typhon okay.” She locked eyes with me. “Percy, even with the centaurs’ help, I’m starting to think—”

“I know.” I had a bad feeling this might be our last chance to talk, and I felt like there were a million things I hadn’t told her. “Listen, there were some . . . some visions Hestia showed me.”

“You mean about Luke?”

Maybe it was just a safe guess, but I got the feeling Annabeth knew what I’d been holding back. Maybe she’d been having dreams of her own.

“Yeah,” I said. “You and Thalia and Luke. The first time you met. And the time you met Hermes.”

Annabeth slipped her knife back into its sheath. “Luke promised he’d never let me get hurt. He said . . . he said we’d be a new family, and it would turn out better than his.”

Her eyes reminded me of that seven-year-old girl’s in the alley—angry, scared, desperate for a friend.

“Thalia talked to me earlier,” I said. “She’s afraid—”

“That I can’t face Luke,” she said miserably.

I nodded. “But there’s something else you should know. Ethan Nakamura seemed to think Luke was still alive inside his body, maybe even fighting Kronos for control.”

Annabeth tried to hide it, but I could almost see her mind working on the possibilities, maybe starting to hope.

“I didn’t want to tell you,” I admitted.

She looked up at the Empire State Building. “Percy, for so much of my life, I felt like everything was changing, all the time. I didn’t have anyone I could rely on.”

I nodded. That was something most demigods could understand.

“I ran away when I was seven,” she said. “Then with Luke and Thalia, I thought I’d found a family, but it fell apart almost immediately. What I’m saying . . . I hate it when people let me down, when things are temporary. I think that’s why I want to be an architect.”

“To build something permanent,” I said. “A monument to last a thousand years.”

She held my eyes. “I guess that sounds like my fatal flaw again.”

Years ago in the Sea of Monsters, Annabeth had told me her biggest flaw was pride—thinking she could fix anything. I’d even seen a glimpse of her deepest desire, shown to her by the Sirens’ magic. Annabeth had imagined her mother and father together, standing in front of a newly rebuilt Manhattan, designed by Annabeth. And Luke had been there too—good again, welcoming her home.

“I guess I understand how you feel,” I said. “But Thalia’s right. Luke has already betrayed you so many times. He was evil even before Kronos. I don’t want him to hurt you anymore.”

Annabeth pursed her lips. I could tell she was trying not to get mad. “And you’ll understand if I keep hoping there’s a chance you’re wrong.”

I looked away. I felt like I’d done my best, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

Across the street, the Apollo campers had set up a field hospital to tend the wounded—dozens of campers and almost as many Hunters. I was watching the medics work, and thinking about our slim chances for holding Mount Olympus. . . .

And suddenly: I wasn’t there anymore.

I was standing in a long dingy bar with black walls, neon signs, and a bunch of partying adults. A banner across the bar read HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOBBY EARL. Country music played on the speakers. Big guys in jeans and work shirts crowded the bar. Waitresses carried trays of drinks and shouted at each other. It was pretty much exactly the kind of place my mom would never let me go.

I was stuck in the very back of the room, next to the bathrooms (which didn’t smell so great) and a couple of antique arcade games.

“Oh good, you’re here,” said the man at the Pac-Man machine. “I’ll have a Diet Coke.”

He was a pudgy guy in a leopard-skin Hawaiian shirt, purple shorts, red running shoes, and black socks, which didn’t exactly make him blend in with the crowd. His nose was bright red. A bandage was wrapped around his curly black hair like he was recovering from a concussion.

I blinked. “Mr. D?”

He sighed, not taking his eyes from the game. “Really, Peter Johnson, how long will it take for you to recognize me on sight?”

“About as long as it’ll take for you to figure out my name,” I muttered. “Where are we?”

“Why, Bobby Earl’s birthday party,” Dionysus said. “Somewhere in lovely rural America.”

“I thought Typhon swatted you out of the sky. They said you crash-landed.”

“Your concern is touching. I did crash-land. Very painfully. In fact, part of me is still buried under a hundred feet of rubble in an abandoned coal mine. It will be several more hours before I have enough strength to mend. But in the meantime, part of my consciousness is here.”

“At a bar, playing Pac-Man.”

“Party time,” Dionysus said. “Surely you’ve heard of it. Wherever there is a party, my presence is invoked. Because of this, I can exist in many different places at once. The only problem was finding a party. I don’t know if you’re aware how serious things are outside your safe little bubble of New York—”

“Safe little bubble?”

“—but believe me, the mortals out here in the heartland are panicking. Typhon has terrified them. Very few are throwing parties. Apparently Bobby Earl and his friends, bless them, are a little slow. They haven’t yet figured out that the world is ending.”

“So . . . I’m not really here?”

“No. In a moment I’ll send you back to your normal insignificant life, and it will be as if nothing had happened.”

“And why did you bring me here?”

Dionysus snorted. “Oh, I didn’t want you particularly. Any of you silly heroes would do. That Annie girl—”

“Annabeth.”

“The point is,” he said, “I pulled you into party time to deliver a warning. We are in danger.”

“Gee,” I said. “Never would’ve figured that out. Thanks.”

He glared at me and momentarily forgot his game. Pac-Man got eaten by the red ghost dude.

“Erre es korakas, Blinky!” Dionysus cursed. “I will have your soul!”

“Um, he’s a video game character,” I said.

“That’s no excuse! And you’re ruining my game, Jorgenson!”

“Jackson.”

“Whichever! Now listen, the situation is graver than you imagine. If Olympus falls, not only will the gods fade, but everything that is connected to our legacy will also begin to unravel. The very fabric of your puny little civilization—”

The game played a song and Mr. D progressed to level 254.

“Ha!” he shouted. “Take that, you pixelated fiends!”

“Um, fabric of civilization,” I prompted.

“Yes, yes. Your entire society will dissolve. Perhaps not right away, but mark my words, the chaos of the Titans will mean the end of Western civilization. Art, law, wine tastings, music, video games, silk shirts, black velvet paintings—all the things that make life worth living will disappear!”

“So why aren’t the gods rushing back to help us?” I said. “We should combine forces at Olympus. Forget Typhon.”

He snapped his fingers impatiently. “You forgot my Diet Coke.”

“Gods, you’re annoying.” I got the attention of a waitress and ordered the stupid soda. I put it on Bobby Earl’s tab.

Mr. D took a good long drink. His eyes never left the video game. “The truth is, Pierre—”

“Percy.”

“—the other gods would never admit this, but we actually need you mortals to rescue Olympus. You see, we are manifestations of your culture. If you don’t care enough to save Olympus yourselves—”

“Like Pan,” I said, “depending on the satyrs to save the Wild.”

“Yes, quite. I will deny I ever said this, of course, but the gods need heroes. They always have. Otherwise we would not keep you annoying little brats around.”

“I feel so wanted. Thanks.”

“Use the training I have given you at camp.”

“What training?”

“You know. All those hero techniques and . . . No!” Mr. D slapped the game console. “Na pari i eychi! The last level!”

He looked at me, and purple fire flickered in his eyes. “As 1 recall, I once predicted you would turn out to be as selfish as all the other human heroes. Well, here is your chance to prove me wrong.”

“Yeah, making you proud is real high on my list.”

“You must save Olympus, Pedro! Leave Typhon to the Olympians and save our own seats of power. It must be done!”

“Great. Nice little chat. Now, if you don’t mind, my friends will be wondering—”

“There is more,” Mr. D warned. “Kronos has not yet attained full power. The body of the mortal was only a temporary measure.”

“We kind of guessed that.”

“And did you also guess that within a day at most, Kronos will burn away that mortal body and take on the true form of a Titan king?”

“And that would mean . . .”

Dionysus inserted another quarter. “You know about the true forms of the gods.”

“Yeah. You can’t look at them without burning up.”

“Kronos would be ten times more powerful. His very presence would incinerate you. And once he achieves this, he will empower the other Titans. They are weak now, compared to what they will soon become, unless you can stop them. The world will fall, the gods will die, and I will never achieve a perfect score on this stupid machine.”

Maybe I should’ve been terrified, but honestly, I was already about as scared as I could get.

“Can I go now?” I asked.

“One last thing. My son Pollux. Is he alive?”

I blinked. “Yeah, last I saw him.”

“I would very much appreciate it if you could keep him that way. I lost his brother Castor last year—”

“I remember.” I stared at him, trying to wrap my mind around the idea that Dionysus could be a caring father. I wondered how many other Olympians were thinking about their demigod children right now. “I’ll do my best.”

“Your best,” Dionysus muttered. “Well, isn’t that reassuring. Go now. You have some nasty surprises to deal with, and I must defeat Blinky!”

“Nasty surprises?”

He waved his hand, and the bar disappeared.

I was back on Fifth Avenue. Annabeth hadn’t moved. She didn’t give any sign that I’d been gone or anything.

She caught me staring and frowned. “What?”

“Um . . . nothing, I guess.”

I gazed down the avenue, wondering what Mr. D had meant by nasty surprises. How much worse could it get?

My eyes rested on a beat-up blue car. The hood was badly dented, like somebody had tried to hammer out some huge craters. My skin tingled. Why did that car look so familiar? Then I realized it was a Prius.

Paul’s Prius.

I bolted down the street.

“Percy!” Annabeth called. “Where are you going?”

Paul was passed out in the driver’s seat. My mom was snoring beside him. My mind felt like mush. How had I not seen them before? They’d been sitting here in traffic for over a day, the battle raging around them, and I hadn’t even noticed.

“They . . . they must’ve seen those blue lights in the sky.” I rattled the doors but they were locked. “I need to get them out.”

“Percy,” Annabeth said gently.

“I can’t leave them here!” I sounded a little crazy. I pounded on the windshield. “I have to move them. I have to—”

“Percy, just . . . just hold on.” Annabeth waved to Chiron, who was talking to some centaurs down the block. “We can push the car to a side street, all right? They’re going to be fine.”

My hands trembled. After all I’d been through over the last few days, I felt so stupid and weak, but the sight of my parents made me want to break down.

Chiron galloped over. “What’s . . . Oh dear. I see.”

“They were coming to find me,” I said. “My mom must’ve sensed something was wrong.”

“Most likely,” Chiron said. “But, Percy, they will be fine. The best thing we can do for them is stay focused on our job.”

Then I noticed something in the backseat of the Prius, and my heart skipped a beat. Seat-belted behind my mother was a black-and-white Greek jar about three feet tall. Its lid was wrapped in a leather harness.

“No way,” I muttered.

Annabeth pressed her hand to the window. “That’s impossible! I thought you left that at the Plaza.”

“Locked in a vault,” I agreed.

Chiron saw the jar and his eyes widened. “That isn’t— “

“Pandora’s jar.” I told him about my meeting with Prometheus.

“Then the jar is yours,” Chiron said grimly. “It will follow you and tempt you to open it, no matter where you leave it. It will appear when you are weakest.”

Like now, I thought. Looking at my helpless parents.

I imagined Prometheus smiling, so anxious to help out us poor mortals. Give up Hope, and I will know that you are surrendering. I promise Kronos will be lenient.

Anger surged through me. I drew Riptide and cut through the driver’s side window like it was made of plastic wrap.

“We’ll put the car in neutral,” I said. “Push them out of the way. And take that stupid jar to Olympus.”

Chiron nodded. “A good plan. But, Percy . . .”

Whatever he was going to say, he faltered. A mechanical drumbeat grew loud in the distance—the chop-chop-chop of a helicopter.

On a normal Monday morning in New York, this would’ve been no big deal, but after two days of silence, a mortal helicopter was the oddest thing I’d ever heard. A few blocks east, the monster army shouted and jeered as the helicopter came into view. It was a civilian model painted dark red, with a bright green “DE” logo on the side. The words under the logo were too small to read, but I knew what they said: DARE ENTERPRISES.

My throat closed up. I looked at Annabeth and could tell she recognized the logo too. Her face was as red as the helicopter.

“What is she doing here?” Annabeth demanded. “How did she get through the barrier?”

“Who?” Chiron looked confused. “What mortal would be insane enough—”

Suddenly the helicopter pitched forward.

“The Morpheus enchantment!” Chiron said. “The foolish mortal pilot is asleep.”

I watched in horror as the helicopter careened sideways, falling toward a row of office buildings. Even if it didn’t crash, the gods of the air would probably swat it out of the sky for coming near the Empire State Building.

I was too paralyzed to move, but Annabeth whistled and Guido the pegasus swooped out of nowhere.

You rang for a handsome horse? he asked.

“Come on, Percy,” Annabeth growled. “We have to save your friend.”

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