The Titan’s Curse – Chapter 13: WE VISIT THE JUNKYARD OF THE GODS

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Chapter 13: WE VISIT THE JUNKYARD OF THE GODS

We rode the boar until sunset, which was about as much as my back end could take. Imagine riding a giant steel brush over a bed of gravel all day. That’s about how comfortable boar-riding was.

I have no idea how many miles we covered, but the mountains faded into the distance and were replaced by miles of flat, dry land. The grass and scrub brush got sparser until we were galloping (do boars gallop?) across the desert.

As night fell, the boar came to a stop at a creek bed and snorted. He started drinking the muddy water, then ripped a saguaro cactus out of the ground and chewed it, needles and all.

“This is as far as he’ll go,” Grover said. “We need to get off while he’s eating.”

Nobody needed convincing. We slipped off the boar’s back while he was busy ripping up cacti. Then we waddled away as best we could with our saddle sores.

After its third saguaro and another drink of muddy water, the boar squealed and belched, then whirled around and galloped back toward the east.

“It likes the mountains better,” I guessed.

“I can’t blame it,” Thalia said. “Look.”

Ahead of us was a two-lane road half covered with sand. On the other side of the road was a cluster of buildings too small to be a town: a boarded-up house, a taco shop that looked like it hadn’t been open since before Zoe Nightshade was born, and a white stucco post office with a sign that said GILA CLAW, ARIZONA hanging crooked above the door. Beyond that was a range of hills… but then I noticed they weren’t regular hills. The countryside was way too flat for that. The hills were enormous mounds of old cars, appliances, and other scrap metal. It was a junkyard that seemed to go on forever.

“Whoa,” I said.

“Something tells me we’re not going to find a car rental here,” Thalia said. She looked at Graver. “I don’t suppose you got another wild boar up your sleeve?”

Grover was sniffing the wind, looking nervous. He fished out his acorns and threw them into the sand, then played his pipes. They rearranged themselves in a pattern that made no sense to me, but Grover looked concerned.

“That’s us,” he said. “Those five nuts right there.”

“Which one is me?” I asked.

“The little deformed one,” Zoe suggested.

“Oh, shut up.”

“That cluster right there,” Grover said, pointing to the left, “that’s trouble.”

“A monster?” Thalia asked.

Grover looked uneasy. “I don’t smell anything, which doesn’t make sense. But the acorns don’t lie. Our next challenge…”

He pointed straight toward the junkyard. With the sunlight almost gone now, the hills of metal looked like something on an alien planet.

We decided to camp for the night and try the junkyard in the morning. None of us wanted to go Dumpster-diving in the dark.

Zoe and Bianca produced five sleeping bags and foam mattresses out of their backpacks. I don’t know how they did it, because the packs were tiny, but must’ve been enchanted to hold so much stuff. I’d noticed their bows and quivers were also magic. I never really thought about it, but when the Hunters needed them, they just appeared slung over their backs. And when they didn’t, they were gone.

The night got chilly fast, so Grover and I collected old boards from the ruined house, and Thalia zapped them with an electric shock to start a campfire. Pretty soon we were about as comfy as you can get in a rundown ghost town in the middle of nowhere.

“The stars are out,” Zoe said.

She was right. There were millions of them, with no city lights to turn the sky orange.

“Amazing,” Bianca said. “I’ve never actually seen the Milky Way.”

“This is nothing,” Zoe said. “In the old days, there were more. Whole constellations have disappeared because of human light pollution.”

“You talk like you’re not human,” I said.

Zoe raised an eyebrow. “I am a Hunter. I care what happens to the wild places of the world. Can the same be said for thee?”

“For you,” Thalia corrected. “Not thee”

“But you use you for the beginning of a sentence.”

“And for the end,” Thalia said. “No thou. No thee. Just you”

Zoe threw up her hands in exasperation. “I hate this language. It changes too often!”

Grover sighed. He was still looking up at the stars like he was thinking about the light pollution problem. “If only Pan were here, he would set things right.”

Zoe nodded sadly.

“Maybe it was the coffee,” Grover said. “I was drinking coffee, and the wind came. Maybe if I drank more coffee…”

I was pretty sure coffee had nothing to do with what had happened in Cloudcroft, but I didn’t have the heart to tell Grover. I thought about the rubber rat and the tiny birds that had suddenly come alive when the wind blew. “Grover, do you really think that was Pan? I mean, I know you want it to be.”

“He sent us help,” Grover insisted. “I don’t know how or why. But it was his presence. After this quest is done, I’m going back to New Mexico and drinking a lot of coffee. It’s the best lead we’ve gotten in two thousand years. I was so close.”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to squash Grover’s hopes.

“What I want to know,” Thalia said, looking at Bianca, “is how you destroyed one of the zombies. There are a lot more out there somewhere. We need to figure out how to fight them.”

Bianca shook her head. “I don’t know. I just stabbed it and it went up in flames.”

“Maybe there’s something special about your knife,” I said.

“It is the same as mine,” Zoe said. “Celestial bronze, yes. But mine did not affect the warriors that way.”

“Maybe you have to hit the skeleton in a certain spot,” I said.

Bianca looked uncomfortable with everybody paying attention to her.

“Never mind,” Zoe told her. “We will find the answer. In the meantime, we should plan our next move. When we get through this junkyard, we must continue west. If we can find a road, we can hitchhike to the nearest city. I think that would be Las Vegas.”

I was about to protest that Grover and I had had bad experiences in that town, but Bianca beat us to it.

“No!” she said. “Not there!”

She looked really freaked out, like she’d just been dropped off the steep end of a roller coaster.

Zoe frowned. “Why?”

Bianca took a shaky breath. “I… I think we stayed there for a while. Nico and I. When we were traveling. And then, I can’t remember…”

Suddenly I had a really bad thought. I remembered what

Bianca had told me about Nico and her staying in a hotel for a while. I met Graver’s eyes, and I got the feeling he was thinking the same thing.

“Bianca,” I said. “That hotel you stayed at. Was it possibly called the Lotus Hotel and Casino?”

Her eyes widened. “How could you know that?”

“Oh, great,” I said.

“Wait,” Thalia said. “What is the Lotus Casino?”

“A couple of years ago,” I said, “Grover, Annabeth, and I got trapped there. It’s designed so you never want to leave. We stayed for about an hour. When we came out, five days had passed. It makes time speed up.”

“No,” Bianca said. “No, that’s not possible.”

“You said somebody came and got you out,” I remembered.

“Yes.”

“What did he look like? What did he say?”

“I… I don’t remember. Please, I really don’t want to talk about this.”

Zoe sat forward, her eyebrows knit with concern. “You said that Washington, D.C., had changed when you went back last summer. You didn’t remember the subway being there.”

“Yes, but—”

“Bianca,” Zoe said, “can you tell me the name of the president of the United States right now?”

“Don’t be silly,” Bianca said. She told us the correct name of the president.

“And who was the president before that?” Zoe asked.

Bianca thought for a while. “Roosevelt.”

Zoe swallowed. “Theodore or Franklin’?”

“Franklin,” Bianca said. “F.D.R.”

“Like FDR Drive?” I asked. Because seriously, that’s about all I knew about F.D.R.

“Bianca,” Zoe said. “F.D.R. was not the last president. That was about seventy years ago.”

“That’s impossible,” Bianca said. “I… I’m not that old.”

She stared at her hands as if to make sure they weren’t wrinkled.

Thalia’s eyes turned sad. I guess she knew what it was like to get pulled out of time for a while. “It’s okay, Bianca, The important thing is you and Nico are safe. You made it out.”

“But how?” I said. “We were only in there for an hour and we barely escaped. How could you have escaped after being there for so long?”

“I told you.” Bianca looked about ready to cry. “A man came and said it was time to leave. And—”

“But who? Why did he do it?”

Before she could answer, we were hit with a blazing light from down the road. The headlights of a car appeared out of nowhere. I was half hoping it was Apollo, come to give us a ride again, but the engine was way too silent for the sun chariot, and besides, it was nighttime. We grabbed our sleeping bags and got out of the way as a deathly white limousine slid to a stop in front of us.

The back door of the limo opened right next to me. Before I could step away, the point of a sword touched my throat.

I heard the sound of Zoe and Bianca drawing their bows. As the owner of the sword got out of the car, I moved back very slowly. I had to, because he was pushing the point under my chin.

He smiled cruelly. “Not so fast now, are you, punk?”

He was a big man with a crew cut, a black leather biker’s jacket, black jeans, a white muscle shirt, and combat boots. Wraparound shades hid his eyes, but I knew what was behind those glasses—hollow sockets filled with flames.

“Ares,” I growled.

The war god glanced at my friends. “At ease, people.”

He snapped his fingers, and their weapons fell to the ground.

“This is a friendly meeting.” He dug the point of his blade a little farther under my chin. “Of course I’d like to take your head for a trophy, but someone wants to see you. And I never behead my enemies in front of a lady.”

“What lady?” Thalia asked.

Ares looked over at her. “Well, well. I heard you were back.”

He lowered his sword and pushed me away.

“Thalia, daughter of Zeus,” Ares mused. “You’re not hanging out with very good company.”

“What’s your business, Ares?” she said. “Who’s in the car?”

Ares smiled, enjoying the attention. “Oh, I doubt she wants to meet the rest of you. Particularly not them.” He jutted his chin toward Zoe and Bianca. “Why don’t you all go get some tacos while you wait? Only take Percy a few minutes.”

“We will not leave him alone with thee, Lord Ares,” Zoe said.

“Besides,” Grover managed, “the taco place is closed.”

Ares snapped his fingers again. The lights inside the taqueria suddenly blazed to life. The boards flew off the door and the CLOSED sign flipped to OPEN. “You were saying, goat boy?”

“Go on,” I told my friends. “I’ll handle this.”

I tried to sound more confident than I felt. I don’t think Ares was fooled.

“You heard the boy,” Ares said. “He’s big and strong. He’s got things under control.”

My friends reluctantly headed over to the taco restaurant. Ares regarded me with loathing, then opened the limousine door like a chauffeur.

“Get inside, punk,” he said. “And mind your manners. She’s not as forgiving of rudeness as I am.”

When I saw her, my jaw dropped.

I forgot my name. I forgot where I was. I forgot how to speak in complete sentences.

She was wearing a red satin dress and her hair was curled in a cascade of ringlets. Her face was the most beautiful I’d ever seen: perfect makeup, dazzling eyes, a smile that would’ve lit up the dark side of the moon.

Thinking back on it, I can’t tell you who she looked like.

Or even what color her hair or her eyes were. Pick the most beautiful actress you can think of. The goddess was ten times more beautiful than that. Pick your favorite hair color, eye color, whatever. The goddess had that.

When she smiled at me, just for a moment she looked a little like Annabeth. Then like this television actress I used to have a crush on in fifth grade. Then… well, you get the idea.

“Ah, there you are, Percy,” the goddess said. “I am Aphrodite.”

I slipped into the seat across from her and said something like, “Um uh gah.”

She smiled. “Aren’t you sweet. Hold this, please.”

She handed me a polished mirror the size of a dinner plate and had me hold it up for her. She leaned forward and dabbed at her lipstick, though I couldn’t see anything wrong with it.

“Do you know why you’re here?” she asked.

I wanted to respond. Why couldn’t I form a complete sentence? She was only a lady. A seriously beautiful lady. With eyes like pools of spring water… Whoa.

I pinched my own arm, hard.

“I… I don’t know,” I managed.

“Oh, dear,” Aphrodite said. “Still in denial?”

Outside the car, I could hear Ares chuckling. I had a feeling he could hear every word we said. The idea of him being out there made me angry, and that helped clear my mind.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“Well then, why are you on this quest?”

“Artemis has been captured!”

Aphrodite rolled her eyes. “Oh, Artemis. Please. Talk about a hopeless case. I mean, if they were going to kidnap a goddess, she should be breathtakingly beautiful, don’t you think? I pity the poor dears who have to imprison Artemis. Bo-ring!”

“But she was chasing a monster,” I protested. “A really, really bad monster. We have to find it!”

Aphrodite made me hold the mirror a little higher. She seemed to have found a microscopic problem at the corner of her eye and dabbed at her mascara. “Always some monster. But my dear Percy, that is why the others are on this quest. I’m more interested in you.”

My heart pounded. I didn’t want to answer, but her eyes drew an answer right out of my mouth. “Annabeth is in trouble.”

Aphrodite beamed. “Exactly!”

“I have to help her,” I said. “I’ve been having these dreams.”

“Ah, you even dream about her! That’s so cute!”

“No! I mean… that’s not what I meant.”

She made a tsk-tsk sound. “Percy, I’m on your side. I’m the reason you’re here, after all.”

I stared at her. “What?”

“The poisoned T-shirt the Stoll brothers gave Phoebe,” she said. “Did you think that was an accident? Sending Blackjack to find you? Helping you sneak out of the camp?”

“You did that?”

“Of course! Because really, how boring these Hunters . are! A quest for some monster, blah blah blah. Saving Artemis. Let her stay lost, I say. But a quest for true love—”

“Wait a second, I never said—”

“Oh, my dear. You don’t need to say it. You do know Annabeth was close to joining the Hunters, don’t you?”

I blushed. “I wasn’t sure—”

“She was about to throw her life away! And you, my dear, you can save her from that. It’s so romantic!”

“Uh…”

“Oh, put the mirror down,” Aphrodite ordered. “I look fine.”

I hadn’t realized I was still holding it, but as soon as I put it down, I noticed my arms were sore.

“Now listen, Percy,” Aphrodite said. “The Hunters are your enemies. Forget them and Artemis and the monster. That’s not important. You just concentrate on finding and saving Annabeth.”

“Do you know where she is?”

Aphrodite waved her hand irritably. “No, no. I leave the details to you. But it’s been ages since we’ve had a good tragic love story.”

“Whoa, first of all, I never said anything about love. And second, what’s up with tragic!”

“Love conquers all,” Aphrodite promised. “Look at Helen and Paris. Did they let anything come between them?”

“Didn’t they start the Trojan War and get thousands of people killed?”

“Pfft. That’s not the point. Follow your heart.”

“But… I don’t know where it’s going. My heart, I mean.”

She smiled sympathetically. She really was beautiful. And not just because she had a pretty face or anything. She believed in love so much, it was impossible not to feel giddy when she talked about it.

“Not knowing is half the fun,” Aphrodite said. “Exquisitely painful, isn’t it? Not being sure who you love and who loves you? Oh, you kids! It’s so cute I’m going to cry.”

“No, no,” I said. “Don’t do that.”

“And don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not going to let this be easy and boring for you. No, I have some wonderful surprises in store. Anguish. Indecision. Oh, you just wait.”

“That’s really okay,” I told her. “Don’t go to any trouble.”

“You’re so cute. I wish all my daughters could break the heart of a boy as nice as you.” Aphrodite’s eyes were tearing up. “Now, you’d better go. And do be careful in my husband’s territory, Percy. Don’t take anything. He is awfully fussy about his trinkets and trash.”

“What?” I asked. “You mean Hephaestus?”

But the car door opened and Ares grabbed my shoulder, pulling me out of the car and back into the desert night.

My audience with the goddess of love was over.

“You’re lucky, punk.” Ares pushed me away from the limo. “Be grateful.”

“For what?”

“That we’re being so nice. If it was up to me—”

“So why haven’t you killed me?” I shot back. It was a stupid thing to say to the god of war, but being around him always made me feel angry and reckless.

Ares nodded, like I’d finally said something intelligent.

“I’d love to kill you, seriously,” he said. “But see, I got a situation. Word on Olympus is that you might start the biggest war in history. I can’t risk messing that up. Besides, Aphrodite thinks you’re some kinda soap-opera star or something. I kill you, that makes me look bad with her. But don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten my promise. Some day soon, kid—real soon—you’re going to raise your sword to fight, and you’re going to remember the wrath of Ares.”

I balled my fists. “Why wait? I beat you once. How’s that ankle healing up?”

He grinned crookedly. “Not bad, punk. But you got nothing on the master of taunts. I’ll start the fight when I’m good and ready. Until then… Get lost.”

He snapped his fingers and the world did a three-sixty, spinning in a cloud of red dust. I fell to the ground.

When I stood up again, the limousine was gone. The road, the taco restaurant, the whole town of Gila Claw was gone. My friends and I were standing in the middle of the junkyard, mountains of scrap metal stretched out in every direction.

“What did she want with you?” Bianca asked, once I’d told them about Aphrodite.

“Oh, uh, not sure,” I lied. “She said to be careful in her husband’s junkyard. She said not to pick anything up.”

Zoe narrowed her eyes. “The goddess of love would not make a special trip to tell thee that. Be careful, Percy. Aphrodite has led many heroes astray.”

“For once I agree with Zoe,” Thalia said. “You can’t trust Aphrodite.”

Grover was looking at me funny. Being empathic and all, he could usually read my emotions, and I got the feeling he knew exactly what Aphrodite had talked to me about.

“So,” I said, anxious to change the subject, “how do we get out of here?”

“That way,” Zoe said. “That is west.”

“How can you tell?”

In the light of the full moon, I was surprised how well I could see her roll her eyes at me. “Ursa Major is in the north,” she said, “which means that must be west.”

She pointed west, then at the northern constellation, which was hard to make out because there were so many other stars.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “The bear thing.”

Zoe looked offended. “Show some respect. It was a fine bear. A worthy opponent.”

“You act like it was real.”

“Guys,” Grover broke in. “Look!”

We’d reached the crest of a junk mountain. Piles of metal objects glinted in the moonlight: broken heads of bronze horses, metal legs from human statues, smashed chariots, tons of shields and swords and other weapons, along with more modern stuff, like cars that gleamed gold and silver, refrigerators, washing machines, and computer monitors.

“Whoa,” Bianca said. “That stuff… some of it looks like real gold.”

“It is,” Thalia said grimly. “Like Percy said, don’t touch anything. This is the junkyard of the gods.”

“Junk?” Grover picked up a beautiful crown made of gold, silver, and jewels. It was broken on one side, as if it had been split by an axe. “You call this junk?”

He bit off a point and began to chew. “It’s delicious!”

Thalia swatted the crown out of his hands. “I’m serious!”

“Look!” Bianca said. She raced down the hill, tripping over bronze coils and golden plates. She picked up a bow that glowed silver in moonlight. “A Hunter’s bow!”

She yelped in surprise as the bow began to shrink, and became a hair clip shaped like a crescent moon. “It’s just like Percys sword!”

Zoe’s face was grim. “Leave it, Bianca.”

“But—”

“It is here for a reason. Anything thrown away in this junkyard must stay in this yard. It is defective. Or cursed.”

Bianca reluctantly set the hair clip down.

“I don’t like this place,” Thalia said. She gripped the shaft of her spear.

“You think we’re going to get attacked by killer refrigerators?” I asked.

She gave me a hard look. “Zoe is right, Percy. Things get thrown away here for a reason. Now come on, let’s get across the yard.”

“That’s the second time you’ve agreed with Zoe,” I muttered, but Thalia ignored me.

We started picking our way through the hills and valleys of junk. The stuff seemed to go on forever, and if it hadn’t been for Ursa Major, we would’ve gotten lost. All the hills pretty much looked the same.

I’d like to say we left the stuff alone, but there was too much cool junk not to check out some of it. I found an electric guitar shaped like Apollo’s lyre that was so sweet I had to pick it up. Grover found a broken tree made out of metal. It had been chopped to pieces, but some of the branches still had golden birds in them, and they whirred around when Grover picked them up, trying to flap their wings.

Finally, we saw the edge of the junkyard about half a mile ahead of us, the lights of a highway stretching through the desert. But between us and the road…

“What is that?” Bianca gasped.

Ahead of us was a hill much bigger and longer than the others. It was like a metal mesa, the length of a football field and as tall as goalposts. At one end of the mesa was a row of ten thick metal columns, wedged tightly together.

Bianca frowned. “They look like—”

“Toes,” Grover said.

Bianca nodded. “Really, really large toes.”

Zoe and Thalia exchanged nervous looks.

“Let’s go around,” Thalia said. “Far around.”

“But the road is right over there,” I protested. “Quicker to climb over.”

Ping.

Thalia hefted her spear and Zoe drew her bow, but then I realized it was only Grover. He had thrown a piece of scrap metal at the toes and hit one, making a deep echo, as if the column were hollow.

“Why did you do that?” Zoe demanded.

Grover cringed. “I don’t know. I, uh, don’t like fake feet?”

“Come on.” Thalia looked at me. “Around.”

I didn’t argue. The toes were starting to freak me out, too. I mean, who sculpts ten-foot-tall metal toes and sticks them in a junkyard?

After several minutes of walking, we finally stepped onto the highway, an abandoned but well-lit stretch of black asphalt.

“We made it out,” Zoe said. “Thank the gods.”

But apparently the gods didn’t want to be thanked. At that moment, I heard a sound like a thousand trash compactors crushing metal.

I whirled around. Behind us, the scrap mountain was boiling, rising up. The ten toes tilted over, and I realized why they looked like toes. They were toes. The thing that rose up from the metal was a bronze giant in full Greek battle armor. He was impossibly tall—a skyscraper with legs and arms. He gleamed wickedly in the moonlight. He looked down at us, and his face was deformed. The left side was partially melted off. His joints creaked with rust, and across his armored chest, written in thick dust by some giant finger, were the words WASH ME.

“Talos!” Zoe gasped.

“Who—who’s Talos?” I stuttered.

“One of Hephaestus’s creations,” Thalia said. “But that can’t be the original. It’s too small. A prototype, maybe. A defective model.

The metal giant didn’t like the word defective.

He moved one hand to his sword belt and drew his weapon. The sound of it coming out of its sheath was horrible, metal screeching against metal. The blade was a hundred feet long, easy. It looked rusty and dull, but I didn’t figure that mattered. Getting hit with that thing would be like getting hit with a battleship.

“Someone took something,” Zoe said. “Who took something?”

She stared accusingly at me.

I shook my head. “I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a thief.”

Bianca didn’t say anything. I could swear she looked guilty, but I didn’t have much time to think about it, because the giant defective Talos took one step toward us, closing half the distance and making the ground shake.

“Run!” Grover yelped.

Great advice, except that it was hopeless. At a leisurely stroll, this thing could outdistance us easily.

We split up, the way we’d done with the Nemean Lion. Thalia drew her shield and held it up as she ran down the highway. The giant swung his sword and took out a row of power lines, which exploded in sparks and scattered across Thalia’s path.

Zoe’s arrows whistled toward the creature’s face but shattered harmlessly against the metal. Grover brayed like a baby goat and went climbing up a mountain of metal.

Bianca and I ended up next to each other, hiding behind a broken chariot.

“You took something,” I said. “That bow.”

“No!” she said, but her voice was quivering.

“Give it back!” I said. “Throw it down!”

“I… I didn’t take the bow! Besides, it’s too late.”

“What did. you take?”

Before she could answer, I heard a massive creaking noise, and a shadow blotted out the sky.

“Move!” I tore down the hill, Bianca right behind me, as the giant’s foot smashed a crater in the ground where we’d been hiding.

“Hey, Talos!” Grover yelled, but the monster raised his sword, looking down at Bianca and me.

Grover played a quick melody on his pipes. Over at the highway, the downed power lines began to dance. I understood what Grover was going to do a split second before it happened. One of the poles with power lines still attached flew toward Talos’s back leg and wrapped around his calf The lines sparked and sent a jolt of electricity up the giant’s backside.

Talos whirled around, creaking and sparking. Grover had bought us a few seconds.

“Come on!” I told Bianca. But she stayed frozen. From her pocket, she brought out a small metal figurine, a statue of a god. “It… it was for Nico. It was the only statue he didn’t have.”

“How can you think of Mythomagic at a time like this?” I said.

There were tears in her eyes.

“Throw it down,” I said. “Maybe the giant will leave us alone.”

She dropped it reluctantly, but nothing happened.

The giant kept coming after Grover. It stabbed its sword into a junk hill, missing Grover by a few feet, but scrap metal made an avalanche over him, and then I couldn’t see him anymore.

“No!” Thalia yelled. She pointed her spear, and a blue arc of lightning shot out, hitting the monster in his rusty knee, which buckled. The giant collapsed, but immediately started to rise again. It was hard to tell if it could feel anything. There weren’t any emotions in its half-melted face, but I got the sense that it was about as ticked off as a twenty-story-tall metal warrior could be.

He raised his foot to stomp and I saw that his sole was treaded like the bottom of a sneaker. There was a hole in his heel, like a large manhole, and there were red words painted around it, which I deciphered only after the foot came down: FOR MAINTENANCE ONLY.

“Crazy-idea time,” I said.

Bianca looked at me nervously. “Anything.”

I told her about the maintenance hatch. “There may be a way to control the thing. Switches or something. I’m going to get inside.”

“How? You’ll have to stand under its foot! You’ll be crushed”

“Distract it,” I said. “I’ll just have to time it right.”

Bianca’s jaw tightened. “No. I’ll go.”

“You can’t. You’re new at this! You’ll die.”

“It’s my fault the monster came after us,” she said. “It’s my responsibility. Here.” She picked up the little god statue and pressed it into my hand. “If anything happens, give that to Nico. Tell him… tell him I’m sorry.”

“Bianca, no!”

But she wasn’t waiting for me. She charged at the monster’s left foot.

Thalia had its attention for the moment. She’d learned that the giant was big but slow. If you could stay close to it and not get smashed, you could run around it and stay alive. At least, it was working so far.

Bianca got right next to the giant’s foot, trying to balance herself on the metal scraps that swayed and shifted with his weight.

Zoe yelled, “What are you doing?”

“Get it to raise its foot!” she said.

Zoe shot an arrow toward the monster’s face and it flew straight into one nostril. The giant straightened and shook its head.

“Hey, Junk Boy!” I yelled. “Down here.”

I ran up to its big toe and stabbed it with Riptide. The magic blade cut a gash in the bronze.

Unfortunately, my plan worked. Talos looked down at me and raised his foot to squash me like a bug. I didn’t see what Bianca was doing. I had to turn and run. The foot came down about two inches behind me and I was knocked into the air. I hit something hard and sat up, dazed. I’d been thrown into an Olympus-Air refrigerator.

The monster was about to finish me off, but Grover somehow dug himself out of the junk pile. He played his pipes frantically, and his music sent another power line pole whacking against Talos’s thigh. The monster turned. Grover should’ve run, but he must’ve been too exhausted from the effort of so much magic. He took two steps, fell, and didn’t get back up.

“Grover!” Thalia and I both ran toward him, but I knew we’d be too late.

The monster raised his sword to smash Grover. Then he froze.

Talos cocked his head to one side, like he was hearing strange new music. He started moving his arms and legs in weird ways, doing the Funky Chicken. Then he made a fist and punched himself in the face.

“Go, Bianca!” I yelled.

Zoe looked horrified. “She is inside?”

The monster staggered around, and I realized we were still in danger. Thalia and I grabbed Grover and ran with him toward the highway. Zoe was already ahead of us. She yelled, “How will Bianca get out?”

The giant hit itself in the head again and dropped his sword. A shudder ran through his whole body and he staggered toward the power lines.

“Look out!” I yelled, but it was too late.

The giant’s ankle snared the lines, and blue flickers of electricity shot up his body. I hoped the inside was insulated. I had no idea what was going on in there. The giant careened back into the junkyard, and his right hand fell off, landing in the scrap metal with a horrible CLANG!

His left arm came loose, too. He was falling apart at the joints.

Talos began to run.

“Wait!” Zoe yelled. We ran after him, but there was no way we could keep up. Pieces of the robot kept falling off, getting in our way.

The giant crumbled from the top down: his head, his chest, and finally, his legs collapsed. When we reached the wreckage we searched frantically, yelling Bianca’s name. We crawled around in the vast hollow pieces and the legs and the head. We searched until the sun started to rise, but no luck.

Zoe sat down and wept. I was stunned to see her cry.

Thalia yelled in rage and impaled her sword in the giant’s smashed face.

“We can keep searching,” I said. “It’s light now. We’ll find her.”

“No we won’t,” Grover said miserably. “It happened just as it was supposed to.”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded.

He looked up at me with big watery eyes. “The prophecy. One shall he lost in the land without rain.”

Why hadn’t I seen it? Why had I let her go instead of me?

Here we were in the desert. And Bianca di Angelo was gone.

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