‘Well … no. We didn’t know you existed. But –’
‘Then save your words, brother.’ Kym’s jellyfish-tentacle hair floated towards him, as if anxious to paralyse new prey. ‘I have heard so much about the great Percy Jackson. The giants are quite obsessed with capturing you. I must say … I don’t see what the fuss is about.’
‘Thanks, sis. But, if you’re going to try to kill me, I gotta warn you it’s been tried before. I’ve faced a lot of goddesses recently – Nike, Akhlys, even Nyx herself. Compared to them, you’re not scaring me. Also, you laugh like a dolphin.’
Kym’s delicate nostrils flared. Jason got his sword ready.
‘Oh, I won’t kill you,’ Kym said. ‘My part of the bargain was simply to get your attention. Someone else is here, though, who very much wants to kill you.’
Above them, at the edge of the broken roof, a dark shape appeared – a figure even taller than Kymopoleia.
‘The son of Neptune,’ boomed a deep voice.
The giant floated down. Clouds of dark viscous fluid – poison, perhaps – curled from his blue skin. His green breastplate was fashioned to resemble a cluster of open hungry mouths. In his hands were the weapons of a retiarius – a trident and a weighted net.
Jason had never met this particular giant, but he’d heard stories. ‘Polybotes,’ he said, ‘the anti-Poseidon.’
The giant shook his dreadlocks. A dozen serpents swam free – each one lime green with a frilled crown around its head. Basilisks.
‘Indeed, son of Rome,’ the giant said. ‘But, if you’ll excuse me, my immediate business is with Perseus Jackson. I tracked him all the way across Tartarus. Now, here in his father’s ruins, I mean to crush him once and for all.’
JASON HATED BASILISKS.
The little scum-suckers loved to burrow under the temples in New Rome. Back when Jason was a centurion, his cohort always got the unpopular chore of clearing out their nests.
A basilisk didn’t look like much – just an arm-length serpent with yellow eyes and a white frill collar – but it moved fast and could kill anything it touched. Jason had never faced more than two at a time. Now a dozen were swimming around the giant’s legs. The only good thing: underwater, basilisks wouldn’t be able to breathe fire, but that didn’t make them any less deadly.
Two of the serpents shot towards Percy. He sliced them in half. The other ten swirled around him, just out of blade’s reach. They writhed back and forth in a hypnotic pattern, looking for an opening. One bite, one touch was all it would take.
‘Hey!’ Jason yelled. ‘How about some love over here?’
The snakes ignored him.
So did the giant, who stood back and watched with a smug smile, apparently happy for his pets to do the killing.
‘Kymopoleia.’ Jason tried his best to pronounce her name right. ‘You have to stop this.’
She regarded him with her glowing white eyes. ‘Why would I do that? The Earth Mother has promised me unrestricted power. Could you make me a better offer?’
A better offer …
He sensed the possibility of an opening – room to negotiate. But what did he have that a storm goddess would want?
The basilisks closed in on Percy. He blasted them away with currents of water, but they just kept circling.
‘Hey, basilisks!’ Jason yelled.
Still no reaction. He could charge in and help, but even together he and Percy couldn’t possibly fight off ten basilisks at once. He needed a better solution.
He glanced up. A thunderstorm raged above, but they were hundreds of feet down. He couldn’t possibly summon lightning at the bottom of the sea, could he? Even if he could, water conducted electricity a little too well. He might fry Percy.
But he couldn’t think of a better option. He thrust up his sword. Immediately the blade glowed red-hot.
A diffuse cloud of yellow light billowed through the depths, like someone had poured liquid neon into the water. The light hit Jason’s sword and sprayed outwards in ten separate tendrils, zapping the basilisks.
Their eyes went dark. Their frills disintegrated. All ten serpents turned belly-up and floated dead in the water.
‘Next time,’ Jason said, ‘look at me when I’m talking to you.’
Polybotes’s smile curdled. ‘Are you so anxious to die, Roman?’
Percy raised his sword. He hurled himself at the giant, but Polybotes swept his hand through the water, leaving an arc of black oily poison. Percy charged straight into it faster than Jason could yell, Dude, what are you thinking?
Percy dropped Riptide. He gasped, clawing at his throat. The giant threw his weighted net and Percy collapsed to the floor, hopelessly entangled as the poison thickened around him.
‘Let him go!’ Jason’s voice cracked with panic.
The giant chuckled. ‘Don’t worry, son of Jupiter. Your friend will take a long time to die. After all the trouble he’s caused me, I wouldn’t dream of killing him quickly.’
Noxious clouds expanded around the giant, filling the ruins like thick cigar smoke. Jason scrambled backwards, not fast enough, but his ventus proved a useful filter. As the poison engulfed him, the miniature tornado spun faster, repelling the clouds. Kymopoleia wrinkled her nose and waved away the darkness, but otherwise it didn’t seem to affect her.
Percy writhed in the net, his face turning green. Jason charged to help him, but the giant blocked him with his huge trident.
‘Oh, I can’t let you ruin my fun,’ Polybotes chided. ‘The poison will kill him eventually, but first come the paralysis and hours of excruciating pain. I want him to have the full experience! He can watch as I destroy you, Jason Grace!’
Polybotes advanced slowly, giving Jason plenty of time to contemplate the three-storey-tall tower of armour and muscle bearing down on him.
He dodged the trident and, using his ventus to shoot forward, jabbed his sword into the giant’s reptilian leg. Polybotes roared and stumbled, golden ichor pluming from the wound.
‘Kym!’ Jason yelled. ‘Is this really what you want?’
The storm goddess looked rather bored, idly spinning her metal disc. ‘Unlimited power? Why not?’
‘But is it any fun?’ Jason asked. ‘So you destroy our ship. You destroy the entire coastline of the world. Once Gaia wipes out human civilization, who’s left to fear you? You’ll still be unknown.’
Polybotes turned. ‘You are a pest, son of Jupiter. You will be crushed!’
Jason tried to summon more lightning. Nothi
ng happened. If he ever met his dad, he’d have to petition for an increased daily allowance of bolts.
Jason managed to avoid the prongs of the trident again, but the giant swung the other end around and smacked him in the chest.
Jason reeled back, stunned and in pain. Polybotes came in for the kill. Just before the trident would have perforated him, Jason’s ventus acted on its own. It spiralled sideways, whisking Jason thirty feet across the courtyard.
Thanks, buddy, Jason thought. I owe you some air freshener.
If the ventus liked that idea, Jason couldn’t tell.
‘Actually, Jason Grace,’ Kym said, studying her fingernails, ‘now that you mention it, I do enjoy being feared by mortals. I am not feared enough.’
‘I can help with that!’ Jason dodged another swipe of the trident. He extended his gladius into a javelin and poked Polybotes in the eye.
‘AUGH!’ The giant staggered.
Percy writhed in the net, but his movements were getting sluggish. Jason needed to hurry. He had to get Percy to sickbay, and if the storm kept raging above them there wouldn’t be any sickbay to get him to.
He flew to Kym’s side. ‘You know gods depend on mortals. The more we honour you, the more powerful you get.’
‘I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been honoured!’
She ignored Polybotes, who was now stampeding around her, trying to swat Jason out of his whirlwind. Jason did his best to keep the goddess between them.
‘I can change that,’ he promised. ‘I will personally arrange a shrine for you on Temple Hill in New Rome. Your first ever Roman shrine! I’ll raise one at Camp Half-Blood as well, right on the shore of Long Island Sound. Imagine, being honoured –’
‘– and feared by both Greeks and Romans. You’ll be famous!’
‘STOP TALKING!’ Polybotes swung his trident like a baseball bat.
Jason ducked. Kym did not. The giant slammed her in the ribcage so hard that strands of her jellyfish hair came loose and drifted through the poisoned water.
Polybotes’s eyes widened. ‘I’m sorry, Kymopoleia. You shouldn’t have been in the way!’
‘IN THE WAY?’ The goddess straightened. ‘I am in the way?’
‘You heard him,’ Jason said. ‘You’re nothing but a tool for the giants. They’ll cast you aside as soon as they’re through destroying the mortals. Then no demigods, no shrines, no fear, no respect.’
‘LIES!’ Polybotes tried to stab him, but Jason hid behind the goddess’s dress. ‘Kymopoleia, when Gaia rules, you will rage and storm without restraint!’
‘Will there be mortals to terrorize?’ Kym asked.
‘Well … no.’
‘Ships to destroy? Demigods to cower in awe?’