He wasn’t even sure why he did it. Why would either side listen to him? He was the worst speaker, the worst ambassador ever.
Yet he strode between the battle lines, his black sword in his hand. ‘Reyna risked her life for all of you! We brought this statue halfway across the world, Roman and Greek working together, because we must join forces. Gaia is rising. If we don’t work together –’
YOU WILL DIE.
The voice shook the earth. Nico’s feeling of peace and safety instantly vanished. Wind swept across the hillside. The ground itself became fluid and sticky, the grass pulling at Nico’s boots.
A FUTILE GESTURE.
Nico felt as if he was standing on the goddess’s throat – as if the entire length of Long Island resonated with her vocal cords.
BUT, IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY, YOU MAY DIE TOGETHER.
‘No …’ Octavian scrambled backwards. ‘No, no …’ He broke and ran, pushing through his own troops.
‘CLOSE RANKS!’ Reyna yelled.
The Greeks and Romans moved together, standing shoulder to shoulder as all around them the earth shook.
Octavian’s auxilia troops surged forward, surrounding the demigods. Both camps put together were a minuscule dot in a sea of enemies. They would make their final stand on Half-Blood Hill, with the Athena Parthenos as their rallying point.
But even here they stood on enemy ground. Because Gaia was the earth, and the earth was awake.
JASON HAD HEARD OF someone’s life flashing before his eyes.
But he didn’t think it would be like this.
Standing with his friends in a defensive ring, surrounded by giants, then looking up at an impossible vision in the sky – Jason could very clearly picture himself fifty years in the future.
He was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of a house on the California coast. Piper was serving lemonade. Her hair was grey. Deep lines etched the corners of her eyes, but she was still as beautiful as ever. Jason’s grandchildren sat around his feet, and he was trying to explain to them what had happened on this day in Athens.
No, I’m serious, he said. Just six demigods on the ground and one more in a burning ship above the Acropolis. We were surrounded by thirty-foot-tall giants who were about to kill us. Then the sky opened up and the gods descended!
Granddad, the kids said, you are full of schist.
I’m not kidding! he protested. The Olympian gods came charging out of the heavens on their war chariots, trumpets blaring, swords flaming. And your great-grandfather, the king of the gods, led the charge, a javelin of pure electricity crackling in his hand!
His grandkids laughed at him. And Piper glanced over, smiling, like Would you believe it, if you hadn’t been there?
But Jason was there. He looked up as the clouds parted over the Acropolis, and he almost doubted the new prescription lenses Asclepius had given him. Instead of blue skies, he saw black space spangled with stars, the palaces of Mount Olympus gleaming silver and gold in the background. And an army of gods charged down from on high.
It was too much to process. And it was probably better for his health that he didn’t see it all. Only later would Jason be able to remember bits and pieces.
There was supersized Jupiter – no, this was Zeus, his original form – riding into battle in a golden chariot, a lightning bolt the size of a telephone pole crackling in one hand. Pulling his chariot were four horses made of wind, each constantly shifting from equine to human form, trying to break free. For a split second, one took on the icy visage of Boreas. Another wore Notus’s swirling crown of fire and steam. A third flashed the smug lazy smile of Zephyrus. Zeus had bound and harnessed the four wind gods themselves.
On the underbelly of the Argo II, the glass bay doors split open. The goddess Nike tumbled out, free from her golden net. She spread her glittering wings and soared to Zeus’s side, taking her rightful place as his charioteer.
‘MY MIND IS RESTORED!’ she roared. ‘VICTORY TO THE GODS!’
At Zeus’s left flank rode Hera, her chariot pulled by enormous peacocks, their rainbow-coloured plumage so bright it gave Jason the spins.
Ares bellowed with glee as he thundered down on the back of a fire-breathing horse. His spear glistened red.
In the last second, before the gods reached the Parthenon, they seemed to displace themselves, like they’d jumped through hyperspace. The chariots disappeared. Suddenly Jason and his friends were surrounded by the Olympians, now human-sized, tiny next to the giants, but glowing with power.
Jason shouted and charged Porphyrion.
His friends joined in the carnage.
The fighting ranged all over the Parthenon and spilled across the Acropolis. Out of the corner of his eye, Jason saw Annabeth fighting Enceladus. At her side stood a woman with long dark hair and golden armour over her white robes. The goddess thrust her spear at the giant, then brandished her shield with the fearsome bronzed visage of Medusa. Together, Athena and Annabeth drove Enceladus back into the nearest wall of metal scaffolding, which collapsed on top of him.
On the opposite side of the temple, Frank Zhang and the god Ares smashed through an entire phalanx of giants – Ares with his spear and shield, Frank (as an African elephant) with his trunk and feet. The war god laughed and stabbed and disembowelled like a kid destroying piñatas.
Hazel raced through the battle on Arion’s back, disappearing in the Mist whenever a giant came close, then appearing behind him and stabbing him in the back. The goddess Hecate danced in her wake, setting fire to their enemies with two blazing torches. Jason didn’t see Hades, but whenever a giant stumbled and fell the ground broke open and the giant was snapped up and swallowed.
Percy battled the giant twins, Otis and Ephialtes, while at his side fought a bearded man with a trident and a loud Hawaiian shirt. The twin giants stumbled. Poseidon’s trident morphed into a fire hose, and the god sprayed the giants out of the Parthenon with a high-powered blast in the shape of wild horses.
Piper was maybe the most impressive. She fenced with the giantess Periboia, sword against sword. Despite the fact that her opponent was five t
imes larger, Piper seemed to be holding her own. The goddess Aphrodite floated around them on a small white cloud, strewing rose petals in the giantess’s eyes and calling encouragement to Piper. ‘Lovely, my dear. Yes, good. Hit her again!’
Whenever Periboia tried to strike, doves rose up from nowhere and fluttered in the giantess’s face.
As for Leo, he was racing across the deck of the Argo II, shooting ballistae, dropping hammers on the giants’ heads and blowtorching their loincloths. Behind him at the helm, a burly bearded guy in a mechanic’s uniform was tinkering with the controls, furiously trying to keep the ship aloft.
The strangest sight was the old giant Thoon, who was getting bludgeoned to death by three old ladies with brass clubs – the Fates, armed for war. Jason decided there was nothing in the world scarier than a gang of bat-wielding grannies.
He noticed all of these things, and a dozen other melees in progress, but most of his attention was fixed on the enemy before him – Porphyrion, the giant king – and on the god who fought by Jason’s side: Zeus.
My father, Jason thought in disbelief.
Porphyrion didn’t give him much chance to savour the moment. The giant used his spear in a whirlwind of swipes, jabs and slashes. It was all Jason could do to stay alive.
Still … Zeus’s presence felt reassuringly familiar. Even though Jason had never met his father, he was reminded of all his happiest moments – his birthday picnic with Piper in Rome; the day Lupa showed him Camp Jupiter for the first time; his games of hide-and-seek with Thalia in their apartment when he was tiny; an afternoon on the beach when his mother had picked him up, kissed him and showed him an oncoming storm. Never be afraid of a thunderstorm, Jason. That is your father, letting you know he loves you.
Zeus smelled of rain and clean wind. He made the air burn with energy. Up close, his lightning bolt appeared as a bronze rod a metre long, pointed on both ends, with blades of energy extending from both sides to form a javelin of white electricity. He slashed across the giant’s path and Porphyrion collapsed into his makeshift throne, which crumbled under the giant’s weight.
‘No throne for you,’ Zeus growled. ‘Not here. Not ever.’
‘You cannot stop us!’ the giant yelled. ‘It is done! The Earth Mother is awake!’
In answer, Zeus blasted the throne to rubble. The giant king flew backwards out of the temple and Jason ran after him, his father at his heels.
They backed Porphyrion to the edge of the cliffs, the whole of modern Athens spread out below. Lightning had melted all the weapons in the giant’s hair. Molten Celestial bronze dripped through his dreadlocks like caramel. His skin steamed and blistered.
Porphyrion snarled and raised his spear. ‘Your cause is lost, Zeus. Even if you defeat me, the Earth Mother shall simply raise me again!’
‘Then perhaps,’ Zeus said, ‘you should not die in the embrace of Gaia. Jason, my son …’
Jason had never felt so good, so recognized, as when he father said his name. It was like last winter at Camp Half-Blood, when his erased memories had finally returned. Jason suddenly understood another layer of his existence – a part of his identity that had been cloudy before.
Now he had no doubt: he was the son of Jupiter, god of the sky. He was his father’s child.
Porphyrion lashed out wildly with his spear, but Jason cut it in half with his gladius. He charged in, jabbing his sword through the giant’s breastplate, then summoned the winds and blasted Porphyrion off the edge of the cliff.
As the giant fell, screaming, Zeus pointed his lightning bolt. An arc of pure white heat vaporized Porphyrion in midair. His ashes drifted down in a gentle cloud, dusting the tops of the olive trees on the slopes of the Acropolis.
Zeus turned to Jason. His lightning bolt flickered off, and Zeus clipped the Celestial bronze rod to his belt. The god’s eyes were stormy grey. His salt-and-pepper hair and his beard looked like stratus clouds. Jason found it strange that the lord of the universe, king of Olympus, was only a few inches taller than he was.
‘My son.’ Zeus clasped Jason’s shoulder. ‘There is so much I would like to tell you …’
The god took a heavy breath, making the air crackle and Jason’s new glasses fog up. ‘Alas, as king of the gods, I must not show favouritism to my children. When we return to the other Olympians, I will not be able to praise you as much as I would like, or give you as much credit as you deserve.’
‘I don’t want praise.’ Jason’s voice quavered. ‘Just a little time together would be nice. I mean, I don’t even know you.’
Zeus’s gaze was as far away as the ozone layer. ‘I am always with you, Jason.