The Last Olympian – Chapter 17: I SIT ON THE HOT SEAT

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Chapter 17

I SIT ON THE

HOT SEAT

“What were you thinking?” Clarisse cradled Silena’s head in her lap.

Silena tried to swallow, but her lips were dry and cracked. “Wouldn’t . . . listen. Cabin would . . . only follow you.”

“So you stole my armor,” Clarisse said in disbelief. “You waited until Chris and I went out on patrol; you stole my armor and pretended to be me.” She glared at her siblings. “And NONE of you noticed?”

The Ares campers developed a sudden interest in their combat boots.

“Don’t blame them,” Silena said. “They wanted to . . . to believe I was you.”

“You stupid Aphrodite girl,” Clarisse sobbed. “You charged a drakon? Why?”

“All my fault,” Silena said, a tear streaking the side of her face. “The drakon, Charlie’s death . . . camp endangered—”

“Stop it!” Clarisse said. “That’s not true.”

Silena opened her hand. In her palm was a silver bracelet with a scythe charm, the mark of Kronos.

A cold fist closed around my heart. “You were the spy.”

Silena tried to nod. “Before . . . before I liked Charlie, Luke was nice to me. He was so . . . charming. Handsome. Later, I wanted to stop helping him, but he threatened to tell. He promised . . . he promised I was saving lives. Fewer people would get hurt. He told me he wouldn’t hurt . . . Charlie. He lied to me.”

I met Annabeth’s eyes. Her face was chalky. She looked like somebody had just yanked the world out from under her feet.

Behind us, the battle raged.

Clarisse scowled at her cabinmates. “Go, help the centaurs. Protect the doors. GO!”

They scrambled off to join the fight.

Silena took a heavy, painful breath. “Forgive me.”

“You’re not dying,” Clarisse insisted.

“Charlie . . .” Silena’s eyes were a million miles away. “See Charlie . . .”

She didn’t speak again.

Clarisse held her and wept. Chris put a hand on her shoulder.

Finally Annabeth closed Silena’s eyes.

“We have to fight.” Annabeth’s voice was brittle. “She gave her life to help us. We have to honor her.”

Clarisse sniffled and wiped her nose. “She was a hero, understand? A hero.”

I nodded. “Come on, Clarisse.”

She picked up a sword from one of her fallen siblings. “Kronos is going to pay.”

* * *

I’d like to say I drove the enemy away from the Empire State Building. The truth was Clarisse did all the work. Even without her armor or spear, she was a demon. She rode her chariot straight into the Titan’s army and crushed everything in her path.

She was so inspiring, even the panicked centaurs started to rally. The Hunters scrounged arrows from the fallen and launched volley after volley into the enemy. The Ares cabin slashed and hacked, which was their favorite thing. The monsters retreated toward 35th Street.

Clarisse drove to the drakon’s carcass and looped a grappling line through its eye sockets. She lashed her horses and took off, dragging the drakon behind the chariot like a Chinese New Year dragon. She charged after the enemy, yelling insults and daring them to cross her. As she rode, I realized she was literally glowing. An aura of red fire flickered around her.

“The blessing of Ares,” Thalia said. “I’ve never seen it in person before.”

For the moment, Clarisse was as invincible as I was. The enemy threw spears and arrows, but nothing hit her.

“I AM CLARISSE, DRAKON-SLAYER!” she yelled. “I will kill you ALL! Where is Kronos? Bring him out! Is he a coward?”

“Clarisse!” I yelled. “Stop it. Withdraw!”

“What’s the matter, Titan lord?” she yelled. “BRING IT ON!”

There was no answer from the enemy. Slowly, they began to fall back behind a dracaenae shield wall, while Clarisse drove in circles around Fifth Avenue, daring anyone to cross her path. The two-hundred-foot-long drakon carcass made a hollow scraping noise against the pavement, like a thousand knives.

Meanwhile, we tended our wounded, bringing them inside the lobby. Long after the enemy had retreated from sight, Clarisse kept riding up and down the avenue with her horrible trophy, demanding that Kronos meet her battle.

Chris said, “I’ll watch her. She’ll get tired eventually. I’ll make sure she comes inside.”

“What about the camp?” I asked. “Is anybody left there?”

Chris shook his head. “Only Argus and the nature spirits. Peleus the dragon is still guarding the tree.”

“They won’t last long,” I said. “But I’m glad you came.”

Chris nodded sadly. “I’m sorry it took so long. I tried to reason with Clarisse. I said there’s no point in defending camp if you guys die. All our friends are here. I’m sorry it took Silena . . .”

“My Hunters will help you stand guard,” Thalia said. “Annabeth and Percy, you should go to Olympus. I have a feeling they’ll need you up there—to set up the final defense.”

The doorman had disappeared from the lobby. His book was facedown on the desk and his chair was empty. The rest of the lobby, however, was jam-packed with wounded campers, Hunters, and satyrs.

Connor and Travis Stoll met us by the elevators.

“Is it true?” Connor asked. “About Silena?”

I nodded. “She died a hero.”

Travis shifted uncomfortably. “Um, I also heard—”

“That’s it,” I insisted. “End of story.”

“Right,” Travis mumbled. “Listen, we figure the Titan’s army will have trouble getting up the elevator. They’ll have to go up a few at a time. And the giants won’t be able to fit at all.”

“That’s our biggest advantage,” I said. “Any way to disable the elevator?”

“It’s magic,” Travis said. “Usually you need a key card, but the doorman vanished. That means the defenses are crumbling. Anyone can walk into the elevator now and head straight up.”

“Then we have to keep them away from the doors,” I said. “We’ll bottle them up in the lobby.”

“We need reinforcements,” Travis said. “They’ll just keep coming. Eventually they’ll overwhelm us.”

“There are no reinforcements,” Connor complained.

I looked outside at Mrs. O’Leary, who was breathing against the glass doors and smearing them with hellhound drool.

“Maybe that’s not true,” I said.

I went outside and put a hand on Mrs. O’Leary s muzzle. Chiron had bandaged her paw, but she was still limping. Her fur was matted with mud, leaves, pizza slices, and dried monster blood.

“Hey, girl.” I tried to sound upbeat. “I know you’re tired, but I’ve got one more big favor to ask you.” I leaned next to her and whispered in her ear.

After Mrs. O’Leary shadow-traveled away, I rejoined Annabeth in the lobby. On the way to the elevator, we spotted Grover kneeling over a fat wounded satyr.

“Leneus!” I said.

The old satyr looked terrible. His lips were blue. There was a broken spear in his belly, and his furry goat legs were twisted at a painful angle.

He tried to focus on us, but I don’t think he saw us.

“Grover?” he murmured.

“I’m here, Leneus.” Grover was blinking back tears, despite all the horrible things Leneus had said about him.

“Did . . . did we win?”

“Um . . . yes,” Grover lied. “Thanks to you, Leneus. We drove the enemy away.”

“Told you,” the old satyr mumbled. “True leader. True . . .”

He closed his eyes for the last time.

Grover gulped. He put his hand on Leneus’s forehead and spoke an ancient blessing. The old satyr’s body melted, until all that was left was a tiny sapling in a pile of fresh soil.

“A laurel,” Grover said in awe. “Oh, that lucky old goat.”

He gathered up the sapling in his hands. “I . . . I should plant him. In Olympus, in the gardens.”

“We’re going that way,” I said. “Come on.”

Easy-listening music played as the elevator rose. I thought about the first time I’d visited Mount Olympus, back when I was twelve. Annabeth and Grover hadn’t been with me then. I was glad they were with me now. I had a feeling it might be our last adventure together.

“Percy,” Annabeth said quietly. “You were right about Luke.” It was the first time she’d spoken since Silena Beauregard’s death. She kept her eyes fixed on the elevator floors as they blinked into the magical numbers: 400, 450, 500.

Grover and I exchanged glances.

“Annabeth,” I said. “I’m sorry—”

“You tried to tell me.” Her voice was shaky. “Luke is no good. I didn’t believe you until . . . until I heard how he’d used Silena. Now I know. I hope you’re happy.”

“That doesn’t make me happy.”

She put her head against the elevator wall and wouldn’t look at me.

Grover cradled his laurel sapling in his hands. “Well . . . sure good to be together again. Arguing. Almost dying. Abject terror. Oh, look. It’s our floor.”

The doors dinged and we stepped onto the aerial walkway.

Depressing is not a word that usually describes Mount Olympus, but it looked that way now. No fires lit the braziers. The windows were dark. The streets were deserted and the doors were barred. The only movement was in the parks, which had been set up as field hospitals. Will Solace and the other Apollo campers scrambled around, caring for the wounded. Naiads and dryads tried to help, using nature magic songs to heal burns and poison.

As Grover planted the laurel sapling, Annabeth and I went around trying to cheer up the wounded. I passed a satyr with a broken leg, a demigod who was bandaged from head to toe, and a body covered in the golden burial shroud of Apollo’s cabin. I didn’t know who was underneath. I didn’t want to find out.

My heart felt like lead, but we tried to find positive things to say.

“You’ll be up and fighting Titans in no time!” I told one camper.

“You look great,” Annabeth told another camper.

“Leneus turned into a shrub!” Grover told a groaning satyr.

I found Dionysus’s son Pollux propped up against a tree. He had a broken arm, but otherwise he was okay.

“I can still fight with the other hand,” he said, gritting his teeth.

“No,” I said. “You’ve done enough. I want you to stay here and help with the wounded.”

“But—”

“Promise me to stay safe,” I said. “Okay? Personal favor.”

He frowned uncertainly. It wasn’t like we were good friends or anything, but I wasn’t going to tell him it was a request from his dad. That would just embarrass him. Finally he promised, and when he sat back down, I could tell he was kind of relieved.

Annabeth, Grover, and I kept walking toward the palace. That’s where Kronos would head. As soon as he made it up the elevator—and I had no doubt he would, one way or another—he would destroy the throne room, the center of the gods’ power.

The bronze doors creaked open. Our footsteps echoed on the marble floor. The constellations twinkled coldly on the ceiling of the great hall. The hearth was down to a dull red glow. Hestia, in the form of a little girl in brown robes, hunched at its edge, shivering. The Ophiotaurus swam sadly in his sphere of water. He let out a half-hearted moo when he saw me.

In the firelight, the thrones cast evil-looking shadows, like grasping hands.

Standing at the foot of Zeus’s throne, looking up at the stars, was Rachel Elizabeth Dare. She was holding a Greek ceramic vase.

“Rachel?” I said. “Um, what are you doing with that?”

She focused on me as if she were coming out of a dream. “I found it. It’s Pandora’s jar, isn’t it?”

Her eyes were brighter than usual, and I had a bad flashback of moldy sandwiches and burned cookies.

“Please put down the jar,” I said.

“I can see Hope inside it.” Rachel ran her fingers over the ceramic designs. “So fragile.”

“Rachel.”

My voice seemed to bring her back to reality. She held out the jar, and I took it. The clay felt as cold as ice.

“Grover,” Annabeth mumbled. “Let’s scout around the palace. Maybe we can find some extra Greek fire or Hephaestus traps.”

“But—”

Annabeth elbowed him.

“Right!” he yelped. “I love traps!”

She dragged him out of the throne room.

Over by the fire, Hestia was huddled in her robes, rocking back and forth.

“Come on,” I told Rachel. “I want you to meet someone.”

We sat next to the goddess.

“Lady Hestia,” I said.

“Hello, Percy Jackson,” the goddess murmured. “Getting colder. Harder to keep the fire going.”

“I know,” I said. “The Titans are near.”

Hestia focused on Rachel. “Hello, my dear. You’ve come to our hearth at last.”

Rachel blinked. “You’ve been expecting me?”

Hestia held out her hands, and the coals glowed. I saw images in the fire: My mother, Paul, and I eating Thanksgiving dinner at the kitchen table; my friends and me around the campfire at Camp Half-Blood, singing songs and roasting marshmallows; Rachel and me driving along the beach in Paul’s Prius.

I didn’t know if Rachel saw the same images, but the tension went out of her shoulders. The warmth of the fire seemed to spread across her.

“To claim your place at the hearth,” Hestia told her, “you must let go of your distractions. It is the only way you will survive.”

Rachel nodded. “I . . . I understand.”

“Wait,” I said. “What is she talking about?”

Rachel took a shaky breath. “Percy, when I came here . . . I thought I was coming for you. But I wasn’t. You and me . . .” She shook her head.

“Wait. Now I’m a distraction? Is this because I’m ‘not the hero’ or whatever?”

“I’m not sure I can put it into words,” she said. “I was drawn to you because . . . because you opened the door to all of this.” She gestured at the throne room. “I needed to understand my true sight. But you and me, that wasn’t part of it. Our fates aren’t intertwined. I think you’ve always known that, deep down.”

I stared at her. Maybe I wasn’t the brightest guy in the world when it came to girls, but I was pretty sure Rachel had just dumped me, which was lame considering we’d never even been together.

“So . . . what,” I said. ‘”Thanks for bringing me to Olympus. See ya.’ Is that what you’re saying?”

Rachel stared at the fire.

“Percy Jackson,” Hestia said. “Rachel has told you all she can. Her moment is coming, but your decision approaches even more rapidly. Are you prepared?”

I wanted to complain that no, I wasn’t even close to prepared.

I looked at Pandora’s jar, and for the first time I had an urge to open it. Hope seemed pretty useless to me right now. So many of my friends were dead. Rachel was cutting me off. Annabeth was angry with me. My parents were asleep down in the streets somewhere while a monster army

surrounded the building. Olympus was on the verge of failing, and I’d seen so many cruel things the gods had done: Zeus destroying Maria di Angelo, Hades cursing the last Oracle, Hermes turning his back on Luke even when he knew his son would become evil.

Surrender, Prometheus’s voice whispered in my ear. Otherwise your home will be destroyed. Your precious camp will burn.

Then I looked at Hestia. Her red eyes glowed warmly. I remembered the images I’d seen in her hearth—friends and family, everyone I cared about.

I remembered something Chris Rodriguez had said: There’s no point in defending camp if you guys die. All our friends are here. And Nico, standing up to his father, Hades: If Olympus falls, he said, your own palace’s safety doesn’t matter.

I heard footsteps. Annabeth and Grover came back into the throne room and stopped when they saw us. I probably had a pretty strange look on my face.

“Percy?” Annabeth didn’t sound angry anymore—just concerned. “Should we, um, leave again?”

Suddenly I felt like someone had injected me with steel. I understood what to do.

I looked at Rachel. “You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you? I mean . . . you talked to Chiron, right?”

She managed a faint smile. “You’re worried about me doing something stupid?”

“But I mean . . . will you be okay?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “That kind of depends on whether you save the world, hero.”

I picked up Pandora’s jar. The spirit of Hope fluttered inside, trying to warm the cold container.

“Hestia,” I said, “I give this to you as an offering.”

The goddess tilted her head. “I am the least of the gods. Why would you trust me with this?”

“You’re the last Olympian,” I said. “And the most important.”

“And why is that, Percy Jackson?”

“Because Hope survives best at the hearth,” I said. “Guard it for me, and I won’t be tempted to give up again.”

The goddess smiled. She took the jar in her hands and it began to glow. The hearth fire burned a little brighter.

“Well done, Percy Jackson,” she said. “May the gods bless you.”

“We’re about to find out.” I looked at Annabeth and Grover. “Come on, guys.”

I marched toward my father’s throne.

The seat of Poseidon stood just to the right of Zeus’s, but it wasn’t nearly as grand. The molded black leather seat was attached to a swivel pedestal, with a couple of iron rings on the side for fastening a fishing pole (or a trident). Basically it looked like a chair on a deep-sea boat, that you would sit in if you wanted to hunt shark or marlin or sea monsters.

Gods in their natural state are about twenty feet tall, so I could just reach the edge of the seat if I stretched my arms.

“Help me up,” I told Annabeth and Grover.

“‘Are you crazy?” Annabeth asked.

“Probably,” I admitted.

“Percy,” Grover said, “the gods really don’t appreciate people sitting in their thrones. I mean like turn-you-into-a-pile-of-ashes don’t appreciate it.”

“I need to get his attention,” I said. “It’s the only way.”

They exchanged uneasy looks.

“Well,” Annabeth said, “this’ll get his attention.”

They linked their arms to make a step, then boosted me onto the throne. I felt like a baby with my feet so high off the ground. I looked around at the other gloomy, empty thrones, and I could imagine what it would be like sitting on the Olympian Council—so much power but so much arguing, always eleven other gods trying to get their way. It would be easy to get paranoid, to look out only for my own interest, especially if I were Poseidon. Sitting in his throne, I felt like I had the entire sea at my command—vast cubic miles of ocean churning with power and mystery. Why should Poseidon listen to anyone? Why shouldn’t he be the greatest of the twelve?

Then I shook my head. Concentrate.

The throne rumbled. A wave of gale-force anger slammed into my mind:

WHO DARES—

The voice stopped abruptly. The anger retreated, which was a good thing, because just those two words had almost blasted my mind to shreds.

Percy. My father’s voice was still angry but more controlled. What—exactly—are you doing on my throne?

“I’m sorry, Father,” I said. “I needed to get your attention.”

This was a very dangerous thing to do. Even for you. If I hadn’t looked before I blasted, you would now be a puddle of seawater.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “Listen, things are rough up here.”

I told him what was happening. Then I told him my plan.

His voice was silent for a long time.

Percy, what you ask is impossible. My palace—

“Dad, Kronos sent an army against you on purpose. He wants to divide you from the other gods because he knows you could tip the scales.”

Be that as it may, he attacks my home.

“I’m at your home,” I said. “Olympus.”

The floor shook. A wave of anger washed over my mind. I thought I’d gone too far, but then the trembling eased. In the background of my mental link, I heard underwater explosions and the sound of battle cries: Cyclopes bellowing, mermen shouting.

“Is Tyson okay?” I asked.

The question seemed to take my dad by surprise. He’s fine. Doing much better than I expected. Though “peanut butter” is a strange battle cry.

“You let him fight?”

Stop changing the subject! You realize what you are asking me to do? My palace will be destroyed.

“And Olympus might be saved.”

Do you have any idea how long I’ve worked on remodeling this palace? The game room alone took six hundred years.

“Dad—”

Very well! It shall be as you say. But my son, pray this works.

“I am praying. I’m talking to you, right?”

Oh . . . yes. Good point. Amphitrite—incoming!

The sound of a large explosion shattered our connection.

I slipped down from the throne.

Grover studied me nervously. “Are you okay? You turned pale and . . . you started smoking.”

“I did not!” Then I looked at my arms. Steam was curling off my shirtsleeves. The hair on my arms was singed.

“If you’d sat there any longer,” Annabeth said, “you would’ve spontaneously combusted. I hope the conversation was worth it?”

Moo, said the Ophiotaurus in his sphere of water.

“We’ll find out soon,” I said.

Just then the doors of the throne room swung open. Thalia marched in. Her bow was snapped in half and her quiver was empty.

“You’ve got to get down there,” she told us. “The enemy is advancing. And Kronos is leading them.”

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