The Last Olympian – Chapter 9: TWO SNAKES SAVE MY LIFE

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

Chapter 9

TWO SNAKES SAVE

MY LIFE

I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping along behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.

Of course, the Mist helped. People probably couldn’t see Mrs. O’Leary, or maybe they thought she was a large, loud, very friendly truck.

I took the risk of using my mom’s cell phone to call Annabeth for the second time. I’d called her once from the runnel but only reached her voice mail. I’d gotten surprisingly good reception, seeing as I was at the mythological center of the world and all, but I didn’t want to see what my mom’s roaming charges were going to be.

This time, Annabeth picked up.

“Hey,” I said. “You get my message?”

“Percy, where have you been? Your message said almost nothing! We’ve been worried sick!”

“I’ll fill you in later,” I said, though how I was going to do that I had no idea. “Where are you?”

“We’re on our way like you asked, almost to the Queens—Midtown Tunnel. But, Percy, what are you planning? We’ve left the camp virtually undefended, and there’s no way the gods—”

“Trust me,” I said. “I’ll see you there.”

I hung up. My hands were trembling. I wasn’t sure if it was a leftover reaction from my dip in the Styx, or anticipation of what I was about to do. If this didn’t work, being invulnerable wasn’t going to save me from getting blasted to bits.

It was late afternoon when the taxi dropped me at the Empire State Building. Mrs. O’Leary bounded up and down Fifth Avenue, licking cabs and sniffing hot dog carts. Nobody seemed to notice her, although people did swerve away and look confused when she came close.

I whistled for her to heel as three white vans pulled up to the curb. They said Delphi Strawberry Service, which was the cover name for Camp Half-Blood. I’d never seen all three vans in the same place at once, though I knew they shuttled our fresh produce into the city.

The first van was driven by Argus, our many-eyed security chief. The other two were driven by harpies, who are basically demonic human/chicken hybrids with bad attitudes. We used the harpies mostly for cleaning the camp, but they did pretty well in midtown traffic too.

The doors slid open. A bunch of campers climbed out, some of them looking a little green from the long drive. I was glad so many had come: Pollux, Silena Beauregard, the Stoll brothers, Michael Yew, Jake Mason, Katie Gardner, and Annabeth, along with most of their siblings. Chiron came out of the van last. His horse half was compacted into his magic wheelchair, so he used the handicap lift. The Ares cabin wasn’t here, but I tried not to get too angry about that. Clarisse was a stubborn idiot. End of story.

I did a head count: forty campers in all.

Not many to fight a war, but it was still the largest group of half-bloods I’d ever seen gathered in one place outside camp. Everyone looked nervous, and I understood why. We were probably sending out so much demigod aura that every monster in the northeastern United States knew we were here.

As I looked at their faces—all these campers I’d known for so many summers—a nagging voice whispered in my mind: One of them is a spy.

But I couldn’t dwell on that. They were my friends. I needed them.

Then I remembered Kronos’s evil smile. You can’t count on friends. They will always let you down.

Annabeth came up to me. She was dressed in black camouflage with her Celestial bronze knife strapped to her arm and her laptop bag slung over her shoulder—ready for stabbing or surfing the Internet, whichever came first.

She frowned. “What is it?”

“What’s what?” I asked.

“You’re looking at me funny.”

I realized I was thinking about my strange vision of Annabeth pulling me out of the Styx River. “It’s, uh, nothing.” I turned to the rest of the group. “Thanks for coming, everybody. Chiron, after you.”

My old mentor shook his head. “I came to wish you luck, my boy. But I make it a point never to visit Olympus unless I am summoned.”

“But you’re our leader.”

He smiled. “I am your trainer, your teacher. That is not the same as being your leader. I will go gather what allies I can. It may not be too late to convince my brother centaurs to help. Meanwhile, you called the campers here, Percy. You are the leader.”

I wanted to protest, but everybody was looking at me expectantly, even Annabeth.

I took a deep breath. “Okay, like I told Annabeth on the phone, something bad is going to happen by tonight. Some kind of trap. We’ve got to get an audience with Zeus and convince him to defend the city. Remember, we can’t take no for an answer.”

I asked Argus to watch Mrs. O’Leary, which neither of them looked happy about.

Chiron shook my hand. “You’ll do well, Percy. Just remember your strengths and beware your weaknesses.”

It sounded eerily close to what Achilles had told me. Then I remembered Chiron had taught Achilles. That didn’t exactly reassure me, but I nodded and tried to give him a confident smile.

“Let’s go,” I told the campers.

A security guard was sitting behind the desk in the lobby, reading a big black book with a flower on the cover. He glanced up when we all filed in with our weapons and armor clanking. “School group? We’re about to close up.”

“No,” I said. “Six-hundredth floor.”

He checked us out. His eyes were pale blue and his head was completely bald. I couldn’t tell if he was human or not, but he seemed to notice our weapons, so I guess he wasn’t fooled by the Mist.

“There is no six-hundredth floor, kid.” He said it like it was a required line he didn’t believe. “Move along.”

I leaned across the desk. “Forty demigods attract an awful lot of monsters. You really want us hanging out in your lobby?”

He thought about that. Then he hit a buzzer and the security gate swung open. “Make it quick.”

“You don’t want us going through the metal detectors,” I added.

“Um, no,” he agreed. “Elevator on the right. I guess you know the way.”

I tossed him a golden drachma and we marched ill rough.

We decided it would take two trips to get everybody up in the elevator. I went with the first group. Different elevator music was playing since my last visit—that old disco song “Stayin’ Alive.” A terrifying image flashed through my mind of Apollo in bell-bottom pants and a slinky silk shirt.

I was glad when the elevator doors finally dinged open. In front of us, a path of floating stones led through the clouds up to Mount Olympus, hovering six thousand feet over Manhattan.

I’d seen Olympus several times, but it still took my breath away. The mansions glittered gold and white against the sides of the mountain. Gardens bloomed on a hundred terraces. Scented smoke rose from braziers that lined the winding streets. And right at the top of the snow-capped crest rose the main palace of the gods. It looked as majestic as ever, but something seemed wrong. Then I realized the mountain was silent—no music, no voices, no laughter.

Annabeth studied me. “You look . . . different,” she decided. “Where exactly did you go?”

The elevator doors opened again, and the second group of half-bloods joined us.

“Tell you later,” I said. “Come on.”

We made our way across the sky bridge into the streets of Olympus. The shops were closed. The parks were empty. A couple of Muses sat on a bench strumming flaming lyres, but their hearts didn’t seem to be in it. A lone Cyclops swept the street with an uprooted oak tree. A minor godling spotted us from a balcony and ducked inside, closing his shutters.

We passed under a big marble archway with statues of Zeus and Hera on either side. Annabeth made a face at the queen of the gods.

“Hate her,” she muttered.

“Has she been cursing you or something?” I asked. Last year Annabeth had gotten on Hera’s bad side, but Annabeth hadn’t really talked about it since.

“Just little stuff so far,” she said. “Her sacred animal is the cow, right?”

“Right.”

“So she sends cows after me.”

I tried not to smile. “Cows? In San Francisco?”

“Oh, yeah. Usually I don’t see them, but the cows leave me little presents all over the place—in our backyard, on the sidewalk, in the school hallways. I have to be careful where I step.”

“Look!” Pollux cried, pointing toward the horizon. “What is that?”

We all froze. Blue lights were streaking across the evening sky toward Olympus like tiny comets. They seemed to be coming from all over the city, heading straight toward the mountain. As they got close, they fizzled out. We watched them for several minutes and they didn’t seem to do any damage, but still it was strange.

“Like infrared scopes,” Michael Yew muttered. “We’re being targeted.”

“Let’s get to the palace,” I said.

No one was guarding the hall of the gods. The gold-and-silver doors stood wide open. Our footsteps echoed as we walked into the throne room.

Of course, “room” doesn’t really cover it. The place was the size of Madison Square Garden. High above, the blue ceiling glittered with constellations. Twelve giant empty thrones stood in a U around a hearth. In one corner, a house-size globe of water hovered in the air, and inside swam my old friend the Ophiotaurus, half-cow, half-serpent.

“Moooo!” he said happily, turning in a circle.

Despite all the serious stuff going on, I had to smile. Two years ago we’d spent a lot of time trying to save the Ophiotaurus from the Titans, and I’d gotten kind of fond of him. He seemed to like me too, even though I’d originally thought he was a girl and named him Bessie.

“Hey, man,” I said. “They treating you okay?”

“Mooo,” Bessie answered.

We walked toward the thrones, and a woman’s voice said, “Hello again, Percy Jackson. You and your friends are welcome.”

Hestia stood by the hearth, poking the flames with a stick. She wore the same kind of simple brown dress as she had before, but she was a grown woman now.

I bowed. “Lady Hestia.”

My friends followed my example.

Hestia regarded me with her red glowing eyes. “I see you went through with your plan. You bear the curse of Achilles.”

The other campers started muttering among themselves: What did she say? What about Achilles?

“You must be careful,” Hestia warned me. “You gained much on your journey. But you are still blind to the most important truth. Perhaps a glimpse is in order.”

Annabeth nudged me. “Um . . . what is she talking about?”

I stared into Hestia’s eyes, and an image rushed into my mind: I saw a dark alley between red brick warehouses. A sign above one of the doors read RICHMOND IRONWORKS.

Two half-bloods crouched in the shadows—a boy about fourteen and a girl about twelve. I realized with a start that the boy was Luke. The girl was Thalia, daughter of Zeus. I was seeing a scene from back in the days when they were on the run, before Grover found them.

Luke carried a bronze knife. Thalia had her spear and shield of terror, Aegis. Luke and Thalia both looked hungry and lean, with wild animal eyes, like they were used to being attacked.

“Are you sure?” Thalia asked.

Luke nodded. “Something down here. I sense it.”

A rumble echoed from the alley, like someone had banged on a sheet of metal. The half-bloods crept forward.

Old crates were stacked on a loading dock. Thalia and Luke approached with their weapons ready. A curtain of corrugated tin quivered as if something were behind it.

Thalia glanced at Luke. He counted silently: One, two, three! He ripped away the tin, and a little girl flew at him with a hammer.

“Whoa!” Luke said.

The girl had tangled blond hair and was wearing flannel pajamas. She couldn’t have been more than seven, but she would’ve brained Luke if he hadn’t been so fast.

He grabbed her wrist, and the hammer skittered across the cement.

The little girl fought and kicked. “No more monsters! Go away!”

“It’s okay!” Luke struggled to hold her. “Thalia, put your shield up. You’re scaring her.”

Thalia tapped Aegis, and it shrank into a silver bracelet. “Hey, it’s all right,” she said. “We’re not going to hurt you. I’m Thalia. This is Luke.”

“Monsters!”

“No,” Luke promised. “But we know all about monsters. We fight them too.”

Slowly, the girl stopped kicking. She studied Luke and Thalia with large intelligent gray eyes.

“You’re like me?” she said suspiciously.

“Yeah,” Luke said. “We’re . . . well, it’s hard to explain, but we’re monster fighters. Where’s your family?”

“My family hates me,” the girl said. “They don’t want me. I ran away.”

Thalia and Luke locked eyes. I knew they both related to what she was saying.

“What’s your name, kiddo?” Thalia asked.

“Annabeth.”

Luke smiled. “Nice name. I tell you what, Annabeth—you’re pretty fierce. We could use a fighter like you.”

Annabeth’s eyes widened. “You could?”

“Oh, yeah.” Luke turned his knife and offered her the handle. “How’d you like a real monster-slaying weapon? This is Celestial bronze. Works a lot better than a hammer.”

Maybe under most circumstances, offering a seven-year-old kid a knife would not be a good idea, but when you’re a half-blood, regular rules kind of go out the window.

Annabeth gripped the hilt.

“Knives are only for the bravest and quickest fighters,” Luke explained. “They don’t have the reach or power of a sword, but they’re easy to conceal and they can find weak spots in your enemy’s armor. It takes a clever warrior to use a knife. I have a feeling you’re pretty clever.”

Annabeth stared at him with adoration. “I am!”

Thalia grinned. “We’d better get going, Annabeth. We have a safe house on the James River. We’ll get you some clothes and food.”

“You’re . . . you’re not going to take me back to my family?” she said. “Promise?”

Luke put his hand on her shoulder. “You’re part of our family now. And I promise I won’t let anything hurt you. I’m not going to fail you like our families did us. Deal?”

“Deal!” Annabeth said happily.

“Now, come on,” Thalia said. “We can’t stay put for long!”

The scene shifted. The three demigods were running through the woods. It must’ve been several days later, maybe even weeks. All of them looked beat up, like they’d seen some battles. Annabeth was wearing new clothes—jeans and an oversize army jacket.

“Just a little farther!” Luke promised. Annabeth stumbled, and he took her hand. Thalia brought up the rear, brandishing her shield like she was driving back whatever pursued them. She was limping on her left leg.

They scrambled to a ridge and looked down the other side at a white Colonial house—May Castellan’s place.

“All right,” Luke said, breathing hard. “I’ll just sneak in and grab some food and medicine. Wait here.”

“Luke, are you sure?” Thalia asked. “You swore you’d never come back here. If she catches you—”

“We don’t have a choice!” he growled. “They burned our nearest safe house. And you’ve got to treat that leg wound.”

“This is your house?” Annabeth said with amazement.

“It was my house,” Luke muttered. “Believe me, if it wasn’t an emergency—”

“Is your mom really horrible?” Annabeth asked. “Can we see her?”

“No!” Luke snapped.

Annabeth shrank away from him as though his anger surprised her.

“I . . . I’m sorry,” he said. “Just wait here. I promise everything will be okay. Nothing’s going to hurt you. I’ll be back—”

A brilliant golden flash illuminated the woods. The demigods winced, and a man’s voice boomed: “You should not have come home.”

The vision shut off.

My knees buckled, but Annabeth grabbed me. “Percy! What happened?”

“Did . . . did you see that?” I asked.

“See what?”

I glanced at Hestia, but the goddess’s face was expressionless. I remembered something she’d told me in the woods: If you are to understand your enemy Luke, you must understand his family. But why had she shown me those scenes?

“How long was I out?” I muttered.

Annabeth knit her eyebrows. “Percy, you weren’t out at all. You just looked at Hestia for like one second and collapsed.”

I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. I couldn’t afford to look weak. Whatever those visions meant, I had to stay focused on our mission.

“Um, Lady Hestia,” I said, “we’ve come on urgent business. We need to see—”

“We know what you need,” a man’s voice said. I shuddered, because it was the same voice I’d heard in the vision.

A god shimmered into existence next to Hestia. He looked about twenty-five, with curly salt-and-pepper hair and elfish features. He wore a military pilot’s flight suit, with tiny bird’s wings fluttering on his helmet and his black leather boots. In the crook of his arm was a long staff entwined with two living serpents.

“I will leave you now,” Hestia said. She bowed to the aviator and disappeared into smoke. I understood why she was so anxious to go. Hermes, the God of Messengers, did not look happy.

“Hello, Percy.” His brow furrowed as though he was annoyed with me, and I wondered if he somehow knew about the vision I’d just had. I wanted to ask why he’d been in May Castellan’s house that night, and what had happened after he caught Luke. I remembered the first time I’d met Luke at Camp Half-Blood. I’d asked him if he’d ever met his father, and he’d looked at me bitterly and said, Once. But I could tell from Hermes’s expression that this was not the time to ask.

I bowed awkwardly. “Lord Hermes.”

Oh, sure, one of the snakes said in my mind. Don’t say hi to us. We’re just reptiles.

George, the other snake scolded. Be polite.

“Hello, George,” I said. “Hey, Martha.”

Did you bring us a rat? George asked.

George, stop it, Martha said. He’s busy!

Too busy for rats? George said. That’s just sad.

I decided it was better not to get into it with George. “Um, Hermes,” I said. “We need to talk to Zeus. It’s important.”

Hermes’s eyes were steely cold. “I am his messenger. May I take a message?”

Behind me, the other demigods shifted restlessly. This wasn’t going as planned. Maybe if I tried to speak with Hermes in private . . .

“You guys,” I said. “Why don’t you do a sweep of the city? Check the defenses. See who’s left in Olympus. Meet Annabeth and me back here in thirty minutes.”

Silena frowned. “But—”

“That’s a good idea,” Annabeth said. “Connor and Travis, you two lead.”

The Stolls seemed to like that—getting handed an important responsibility right in front of their dad. They usually never led anything except toilet paper raids. “We’re on it!” Travis said. They herded the others out of the throne room, leaving Annabeth and me with Hermes.

“My lord,” Annabeth said. “Kronos is going to attack New York. You must suspect that. My mother must have foreseen it.”

“Your mother,” Hermes grumbled. He scratched his back with his caduceus, and George and Martha muttered Ow, ow, ow. “Don’t get me started on your mother, young lady. She’s the reason I’m here at all. Zeus didn’t want any of us to leave the front line. But your mother kept pestering him nonstop, ‘It’s a trap, it’s a diversion, blah, blah, blah.’ She wanted to come back herself, but Zeus was not going to let his number one strategist leave his side while we’re battling Typhon. And so naturally he sent me to talk to you.”

“But it is a trap!” Annabeth insisted. “Is Zeus blind?”

Thunder rolled through the sky.

“I’d watch the comments, girl,” Hermes warned. “Zeus is not blind or deaf. He has not left Olympus completely undefended.”

“But there are these blue lights—”

“Yes, yes. I saw them. Some mischief by that insufferable goddess of magic, Hecate, I’d wager, but you may have noticed they aren’t doing any damage. Olympus has strong magical wards. Besides, Aeolus, the King of the Winds, has sent his most powerful minions to guard the citadel. No one save the gods can approach Olympus from the air. They would be knocked out of the sky.”

I raised my hand. “Um . . . what about that materializing/teleporting thing you guys do?”

“That’s a form of air travel too, Jackson. Very fast, but the wind gods are faster. No, if Kronos wants Olympus, he’ll have to march through the entire city with his army and take the elevators! Can you see him doing this?”

Hermes made it sound pretty ridiculous—hordes of monsters going up in the elevator twenty at a time, listening to “Stayin’ Alive.” Still, I didn’t like it.

“Maybe just a few of you could come back,” I suggested.

Hermes shook his head impatiently. “Percy Jackson, you don’t understand. Typhon is our greatest enemy.”

“I thought that was Kronos.”

The god’s eyes glowed. “No, Percy. In the old days, Olympus was almost overthrown by Typhon. He is husband of Echidna—”

“Met her at the Arch,” I muttered. “Not nice.”

“—and the father of all monsters. We can never forget how close he came to destroying us all; how he humiliated us! We were more powerful back in the old days. Now we can expect no help from Poseidon because he’s fighting his own war. Hades sits in his realm and does nothing, and Demeter and Persephone follow his lead. It will take all our remaining power to oppose the storm giant. We can’t divide our forces, nor wait until he gets to New York. We have to battle him now. And we’re making progress.”

“Progress?” I said. “He nearly destroyed St. Louis.”

“Yes,” Hermes admitted. “But he destroyed only half of Kentucky. He’s slowing down. Losing power.”

I didn’t want to argue, but it sounded like Hermes was trying to convince himself.

In the corner, the Ophiotaurus mooed sadly.

“Please, Hermes,” Annabeth said. “You said my mother wanted to come. Did she give you any messages for us?”

“Messages,” he muttered. “‘It’ll be a great job,’ they told me. ‘Not much work. Lots of worshippers.’ Hmph. Nobody cares what I have to say. It’s always about other people’s messages.”

Rodents, George mused. I’m in it for the rodents.

Shhh, Martha scolded. We care what Hermes has to say. Don’t we, George?

Oh, absolutely. Can we go back to the battle now? I want to do laser mode again. That’s fun.

“Quiet, both of you,” Hermes grumbled.

The god looked at Annabeth, who was doing her big-pleading-gray-eyes thing.

“Bah,” Hermes said. “Your mother said to warn you that you are on your own. You must hold Manhattan without the help of the gods. As if I didn’t know that. Why they pay her to be the wisdom goddess, I’m not sure.”

“Anything else?” Annabeth asked.

“She said you should try plan twenty-three. She said you would know what that meant.”

Annabeth’s face paled. Obviously she knew what it meant, and she didn’t like it. “Go on.”

“Last thing.” Hermes looked at me. “She said to tell Percy: ‘Remember the rivers.’ And, um, something about staying away from her daughter.”

I’m not sure whose face was redder: Annabeth’s or mine.

“Thank you, Hermes,” Annabeth said. “And I . . . I wanted to say . . . I’m sorry about Luke.”

The god’s expression hardened like he’d turned to marble. “You should’ve left that subject alone.”

Annabeth stepped back nervously. “Sorry?”

“SORRY doesn’t cut it!”

George and Martha curled around the caduceus, which shimmered and changed into something that looked suspiciously like a high-voltage cattle prod.

“You should’ve saved him when you had the chance,” Hermes growled at Annabeth. “You’re the only one who could have.”

I tried to step between them. “What are you talking about? Annabeth didn’t—”

“Don’t defend her, Jackson!” Hermes turned the cattle prod toward me. “She knows exactly what I’m talking about.”

“Maybe you should blame yourself!” I should’ve kept my mouth shut, but all I could think about was turning his attention away from Annabeth. This whole time, he hadn’t been angry with me. He’d been angry with her. “Maybe if you hadn’t abandoned Luke and his mom!”

Hermes raised his cattle prod. He began to grow until he was ten feet tall. I thought, Well, that’s it.

But as he prepared to strike, George and Martha leaned in close and whispered something in his ear.

Hermes clenched his teeth. He lowered the cattle prod, and it turned back to a staff.

“Percy Jackson,” he said, “because you have taken on the curse of Achilles, I must spare you. You are in the hands of the Fates now. But you will never speak to me like that again. You have no idea how much I have sacrificed, how much—”

His voice broke, and he shrank back to human size. “My son, my greatest pride . . . my poor May . . .”

He sounded so devastated I didn’t know what to say. One minute he was ready to vaporize us. Now he looked like he needed a hug.

“Look, Lord Hermes,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I need to know. What happened to May? She said something about Luke’s fate, and her eyes—”

Hermes glared at me, and my voice faltered. The look on his face wasn’t really anger, though. It was pain. Deep, incredible pain.

“I will leave you now,” he said tightly. “I have a war to fight.”

He began to shine. I turned away and made sure Annabeth did the same, because she was still frozen in shock.

Good luck, Percy, Martha the snake whispered.

Hermes glowed with the light of a supernova. Then he was gone.

Annabeth sat at the foot of her mother’s throne and cried. I wanted to comfort her, but I wasn’t sure how.

“Annabeth,” I said, “it’s not your fault. I’ve never seen Hermes act that way. I guess . . . I don’t know . . . he probably feels guilty about Luke. He’s looking for somebody to blame. I don’t know why he lashed out at you. You didn’t do anything to deserve that.”

Annabeth wiped her eyes. She stared at the hearth like it was her own funeral pyre.

I shifted uneasily. “Um, you didn’t, right?”

She didn’t answer. Her Celestial bronze knife was strapped to her arm—the same knife I’d seen in Hestia’s vision. All these years, I hadn’t realized it was a gift from Luke. I’d asked her many times why she preferred to fight with a knife instead of a sword, and she’d never answered me. Now I knew.

“Percy,” she said. “What did you mean about Luke’s mother? Did you meet her?”

I nodded reluctantly. “Nico and I visited her. She was a little . . . different.” I described May Castellan, and the weird moment when her eyes had started to glow and she talked about her son’s fate.

Annabeth frowned. “That doesn’t make sense. But why were you visiting—” Her eyes widened. “Hermes said you bear the curse of Achilles. Hestia said the same thing. Did you . . . did you bathe in the River Styx?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“Percy! Did you or not?”

“Um . . . maybe a little.”

I told her the story about Hades and Nico, and how I’d defeated an army of the dead. I left out the vision of her pulling me out of the river. I still didn’t quite understand that part, and just thinking about it made me embarrassed.

She shook her head in disbelief. “Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?”

“I had no choice,” I said. “It’s the only way I can stand up to Luke.”

“You mean . . . di immortales, of course! That’s why Luke didn’t die. He went to the Styx and . . . Oh no, Luke. What were you thinking?”

“So now you’re worried about Luke again,” I grumbled.

She stared at me like I’d just dropped from space. “What?”

“Forget it,” I muttered. I wondered what Hermes had meant about Annabeth not saving Luke when she’d had the chance. Clearly, she wasn’t telling me something. But at the moment I wasn’t in the mood to ask. The last thing I wanted to hear about was more of her history with Luke.

“The point is he didn’t die in the Styx,” I said. “Neither did I. Now I have to face him. We have to defend Olympus.”

Annabeth was still studying my face, like she was trying to see differences since my swim in the Styx. “I guess you’re right. My mom mentioned—”

“Plan twenty-three.”

She rummaged in her pack and pulled out Daedalus’s laptop. The blue Delta symbol glowed on the top when she booted it up. She opened a few files and started to read.

“Here it is,” she said. “Gods, we have a lot of work to do.”

“One of Daedalus’s inventions?”

“A lot of inventions . . . dangerous ones. If my mother wants me to use this plan, she must think things are very bad.” She looked at me. “What about her message to you: ‘Remember the rivers’? What does that mean?”

I shook my head. As usual, I had no clue what the gods were telling me. Which rivers was I supposed to remember? The Styx? The Mississippi?

Just then the Stoll brothers ran in to the throne room.

“You need to see this,” Connor said. “Now.”

The blue lights in the sky had stopped, so at first I didn’t understand what the problem was.

The other campers had gathered in a small park at the edge of the mountain. They were clustered at the guardrail, looking down at Manhattan. The railing was lined with those tourist binoculars, where you could deposit one golden drachma and see the city. Campers were using every single one.

I looked down at the city. I could see almost everything from here—the East River and the Hudson River carving the shape of Manhattan, the grid of streets, the lights of skyscrapers, the dark stretch of Central Park in the north. Everything looked normal, but something was wrong. I felt it in my bones before I realized what it was.

“I don’t . . . hear anything,” Annabeth said.

That was the problem.

Even from this height, I should’ve heard the noise of the city—millions of people bustling around, thousands of cars and machines—the hum of a huge metropolis. You don’t think about it when you live in New York, but it’s always there. Even in the dead of night, New York is never silent.

But it was now.

I felt like my best friend had suddenly dropped dead.

“What did they do?” My voice sounded tight and angry. “What did they do to my city?”

I pushed Michael Yew away from the binoculars and took a look.

In the streets below, traffic had stopped. Pedestrians were lying on the sidewalks, or curled up in doorways. There was no sign of violence, no wrecks, nothing like that. It was as if all the people in New York had simply decided to stop whatever they were doing and pass out.

“Are they dead?” Silena asked in astonishment.

Ice coated my stomach. A line from the prophecy rang in my ears: And see the world in endless sleep. I remembered Grover’s story about meeting the god Morpheus in Central Park. You’re lucky I’m saving my energy for the main event.

“Not dead,” I said. “Morpheus has put the entire island of Manhattan to sleep. The invasion has started.”

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