The Last Olympian – Chapter 21: BLACKJACK GETS JACKED

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Chapter 21

BLACKJACK GETS

JACKED

Annabeth and I were on our way out when I spotted Hermes in a side courtyard of the palace. He was staring at an Iris-message in the mist of a fountain.

I glanced at Annabeth. “I’ll meet you at the elevator.”

“You sure?” Then she studied my face. “Yeah, you’re sure.”

Hermes didn’t seem to notice me approach. The Iris-message images were going so fast I could hardly understand them. Mortal newscasts from all over the country flashed by: scenes of Typhon’s destruction, the wreckage our battle had left across Manhattan, the president doing a news conference, the mayor of New York, some army vehicles riding down the Avenue of the Americas.

“Amazing,” Hermes murmured. He turned toward me. “Three thousand years, and I will never get over the power of the Mist . . . and mortal ignorance.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Oh, not you. Although, I suppose I should wonder, turning down immortality.”

“It was the right choice.”

Hermes looked at me curiously, then returned his attention to the Iris-message. “Look at them. They’ve already decided Typhon was a freak series of storms. Don’t I wish. They haven’t figured out how all the statues in Lower Manhattan got removed from their pedestals and hacked to pieces. They keep showing a shot of Susan B. Anthony strangling Frederick Douglass. But I imagine they’ll even come up with a logical explanation for that.”

“How bad is the city?”

Hermes shrugged. “Surprisingly, not too bad. The mortals are shaken, of course. But this is New York. I’ve never seen such a resilient bunch of humans. I imagine they’ll be back to normal in a few weeks; and of course I’ll be helping.”

“You?”

“I’m the messenger of the gods. It’s my job to monitor what the mortals are saying, and if necessary, help them make sense of what’s happened. I’ll reassure them. Trust me, they’ll put this down to a freak earthquake or a solar flare. Anything but the truth.”

He sounded bitter. George and Martha curled around his caduceus, but they were silent, which made me think that Hermes was really really angry. I probably should’ve kept quiet, but I said, “I owe you an apology.”

Hermes gave me a cautious look. “And why is that?”

“I thought you were a bad father,” I admitted. “I thought you abandoned Luke because you knew his future and didn’t do anything to stop it.”

“I did know his future,” Hermes said miserably.

“But you knew more than just the bad stuff—that he’d turn evil. You understood what he would do in the end. You knew he’d make the right choice. But you couldn’t tell him, could you?”

Hermes stared at the fountain. “No one can tamper with fate, Percy, not even a god. If I had warned him what was to come, or tried to influence his choices, I would’ve made things even worse. Staying silent, staying away from him . . . that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“You had to let him find his own path,” I said, “and play his part in saving Olympus.”

Hermes sighed. “I should not have gotten mad at Annabeth. When Luke visited her in San Francisco . . . well, I knew she would have a part to play in his fate. I foresaw that much. I thought perhaps she could do what I could not and save him. When she refused to go with him, I could barely contain my rage. I should have known better. I was really angry with myself.”

“Annabeth did save him,” I said. “Luke died a hero. He sacrificed himself to kill Kronos.”

“I appreciate your words, Percy. But Kronos isn’t dead. You can’t kill a Titan.”

“Then—”

“I don’t know,” Hermes grumbled. “None of us do. Blown to dust. Scattered to the wind. With luck, he’s spread so thin that he’ll never be able to form a consciousness again, much less a body. But don’t mistake him for dead, Percy.”

My stomach did a queasy somersault. “What about the other Titans?”

“In hiding,” Hermes said. “Prometheus sent Zeus a message with a bunch of excuses for supporting Kronos. ‘I was just trying to minimize the damage,’ blah, blah. He’ll keep his head low for a few centuries if he’s smart. Krios has fled, and Mount Othrys has crumbled into ruins. Oceanus slipped back into the deep ocean when it was clear Kronos had lost. Meanwhile, my son Luke is dead. He died believing I didn’t care about him. I will never forgive myself.”

Hermes slashed his caduceus through the mist. The Iris-picture disappeared.

“A long time ago,” I said, “you told me the hardest thing about being a god was not being able to help your children. You also told me that you couldn’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they made it.”

“And now you know I’m a hypocrite?”

“No, you were right, Luke loved you. At the end, he realized his fate. I think he realized why you couldn’t help him. He remembered what was important.”

“Too late for him and me.”

“You have other children. Honor Luke by recognizing them. All the gods can do that.”

Hermes’s shoulders sagged. “They’ll try, Percy. Oh, we’ll all try to keep our promise. And maybe for a while things will get better. But we gods have never been good at keeping oaths. You were born because of a broken promise, eh? Eventually we’ll become forgetful. We always do.”

“You can change.”

Hermes laughed. “After three thousand years, you think the gods can change their nature?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I do.”

Hermes seemed surprised by that. “You think . . . Luke actually loved me? After all that happened?”

“I’m sure of it.”

Hermes stared at the fountain. “I’ll give you a list of my children. There’s a boy in Wisconsin. Two girls in Los Angeles. A few others. Will you see that they get to camp?”

“I promise,” I said. “And I won’t forget.”

George and Martha twirled around the caduceus. I know snakes can’t smile, but they seemed to be trying.

“Percy Jackson,” Hermes said, “you might just teach us a thing or two.”

Another god was waiting for me on the way out of Olympus. Athena stood in the middle of the road with her arms crossed and a look on her face that made me think Uh-oh. She’d changed out of her armor, into jeans and a white blouse, but she didn’t look any less warlike. Her gray eyes blazed.

“Well, Percy,” she said. “You will stay mortal.”

“Um, yes, ma’am.”

“I would know your reasons.”

“I want to be a regular guy. I want to grow up. Have, you know, a regular high school experience.”

“And my daughter?”

“I couldn’t leave her,” I admitted, my throat dry. “Or Grover,” I added quickly. “Or—”

“Spare me.” Athena stepped close to me, and I could feel her aura of power making my skin itch. “I once warned you, Percy Jackson, that to save a friend you would destroy the world. Perhaps I was mistaken. You seem to have saved both your friends and the world. But think very carefully about how you proceed from here. I have given you the benefit of the doubt. Don’t mess up.”

Just to prove her point, she erupted in a column of flame, charring the front of my shirt.

Annabeth was waiting for me at the elevator. “Why do you smell like smoke?”

“Long story,” I said. Together we made our way down to the street level. Neither of us said a word. The music was awful—Neil Diamond or something. I should’ve made that part of my gift from the gods: better elevator tunes.

When we got into the lobby, I found my mother and Paul arguing with the bald security guy, who’d returned to his post.

“I’m telling you,” my mom yelled, “we have to go up! My son—” Then she saw me and her eyes widened. “Percy!”

She hugged the breath right out of me.

“We saw the building lit up blue,” she said. “But then you didn’t come down. You went up hours ago!”

“She was getting a bit anxious,” Paul said drily.

“I’m all right,” I promised as my mom hugged Annabeth. “Everything’s okay now.”

“Mr. Blofis,” Annabeth said, “that was wicked sword work.”

Paul shrugged. “It seemed like the thing to do. But Percy, is this really . . . I mean, this story about the six hundredth floor?”

“Olympus,” I said. “Yeah.”

Paul looked at the ceiling with a dreamy expression. “I’d like to see that.”

“Paul,” my mom chided. “It’s not for mortals. Anyway, the important thing is we’re safe. All of us.”

I was about to relax. Everything felt perfect. Annabeth and I were okay. My mom and Paul had survived. Olympus was saved.

But the life of a demigod is never so easy. Just then Nico ran in from the street, and his face told me something was wrong.

“It’s Rachel,” he said. “I just ran into her down on 32nd Street.”

Annabeth frowned. “What’s she done this time?”

“It’s where she’s gone,” Nico said. “I told her she would die if she tried, but she insisted. She just took Blackjack and—”

“She took my pegasus?” I demanded.

Nico nodded. “She’s heading to Half-Blood Hill. She said she had to get to camp.”

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