Percy glanced over and noticed Frank’s spear was gone. “Used your last charge?”
“Yeah. ” Frank shot another gryphon out of the sky. “I had to help the mortals. The spear just dissolved. ”
Percy nodded. Part of him was relieved. He didn’t like the skeleton warrior. Part of him was disappointed, because that was one less weapon they had at their disposal. But he didn’t fault Frank. Frank had done the right thing.
“Let’s move the fight!” Percy said. “Away from the tracks!” They stumbled through the snow, smacking and slicing gryphons that re-formed from dust every time they were killed.
Percy had had no experience with gryphons. He’d always imagined them as huge noble animals, like lions with wings, but these things reminded him more of vicious pack hunters—flying hyenas.
About fifty yards from the tracks, the trees gave way to an open marsh. The ground was so spongy and icy, Percy felt like he was racing across Bubble Wrap. Frank was running out of arrows. Hazel was breathing hard. Percy’s own sword swings were getting slower. He realized they were alive only because the gryphons weren’t trying to kill them. The gryphons wanted to pick them up and carry them off somewhere.
Maybe to their nests, Percy thought.
Then he tripped over something in the tall grass—a circle of scrap metal about the size of a tractor tire. It was a massive bird’s nest—a gryphon’s nest—the bottom littered with old pieces of jewelry, an Imperial gold dagger, a dented centurion’s badge, and two pumpkin-sized eggs that looked like real gold.
Percy jumped into the nest. He pressed his sword tip against one of the eggs. “Back off, or I break it!”
The gryphons squawked angrily. They buzzed around the nest and snapped their beaks, but they didn’t attack. Hazel and Frank stood back to back with Percy, their weapons ready.
“Gryphons collect gold,” Hazel said. “They’re crazy for it. Look—more nests over there. ”
Frank nocked his last arrow. “So if these are their nests, where were they trying to take Percy? That thing was flying away with him. ”
Percy’s arms still throbbed where the gryphon had grabbed him. “Alcyoneus,” he guessed. “Maybe they’re working for him. Are these things smart enough to take orders?”
“I don’t know,” Hazel said. “I never fought them when I lived here. I just read about them at camp. ”
“Weaknesses?” Frank asked. “Please tell me they have weaknesses. ”
Hazel scowled. “Horses. They hate horses—natural enemies, or something. I wish Arion was here!”
The gryphons shrieked. They swirled around the nest with their red eyes glowing.
“Guys,” Frank said nervously, “I see legion relics in this nest. ”
“I know,” Percy said.
“That means other demigods died here, or—”
“Frank, it’ll be okay,” Percy promised.
One of the gryphons dived in. Percy raised his sword, ready to stab the egg. The monster veered off, but the other gryphons were losing their patience. Percy couldn’t keep this standoff going much longer.
He glanced around the fields, desperately trying to formulate a plan. About a quarter mile away, a Hyperborean giant was sitting in the bog, peacefully picking mud from between his toes with a broken tree trunk.
“I’ve got an idea,” Percy said. “Hazel—all the gold in these nests. Do you think you can use it to cause a distraction?”
“I—I guess. ”
“Just give us enough time for a head start. When I say go, run for that giant. ”
Frank gaped at him. “You want us to run toward a giant?”
“Trust me,” Percy said. “Ready? Go!”
Hazel thrust her hand upward. From a dozen nests across the marsh, golden objects shot into the air—jewelry, weapons, coins, gold nuggets, and most importantly, gryphon eggs. The monsters shrieked and flew after their eggs, frantic to save them.
Percy and his friends ran. Their feet splashed and crunched through the frozen marsh. Percy poured on speed, but he could hear the gryphons closing behind them, and now the monsters were really angry.
The giant hadn’t noticed the commotion yet. He was inspecting his toes for mud, his face sleepy and peaceful, his white whiskers glistening with ice crystals. Around his neck was a necklace of found objects—garbage cans, car doors, moose antlers, camping equipment, even a toilet. Apparently he’d been cleaning up the wilderness.
Percy hated to disturb him, especially since it meant taking shelter under the giant’s thighs, but they didn’t have much choice.
“Under!” he told his friends. “Crawl under!”
They scrambled between the massive blue legs and flattened themselves in the mud, crawling as close as they could to his loincloth. Percy tried to breathe through his mouth, but it wasn’t the most pleasant hiding spot.
“What’s the plan?” Frank hissed. “Get flattened by a blue rump?”
“Lay low,” Percy said. “Only move if you have to. ”