Percy shook his head. “Fat chance, Golden Boy. You’re going down. ”
“Wait. ” Hazel spurred her horse toward the giant. “I raised this monster from the earth. I’m the daughter of Pluto. It’s my place to kill him. ”
“Ah, little Hazel. ” Alcyoneus planted his staff on the ice. His hair glittered with millions of dollars’ worth of gems. “Are you sure you will not join us of your own free will? You could be quite . . . precious to us. Why die again?” Hazel’s eyes flashed with anger. She looked down at Frank and pulled the wrapped-up piece of firewood from her coat.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” he said.
She pursed her lips. “You’re my best friend, too, Frank. I should have told you that. ” She tossed him the stick. “Do what you have to. And Percy…can you protect him?”
Percy gazed at the ranks of ghostly Romans. “Against a small army? Sure, no problem. ”
“Then I’ve got Golden Boy,” Hazel said.
She charged the giant.
FRANK UNWRAPPED THE FIREWOOD and knelt at the feet of Th anatos.
He was aware of Percy standing over him, swinging his sword and yelling in defiance as the ghosts closed in. He heard the giant bellow and Arion whinny angrily, but he didn’t dare look.
His hands trembling, he held his piece of tinder next to the chains on Death’s right leg. He thought about flames, and instantly the wood blazed.
Horrible warmth spread through Frank’s body. The icy metal began to melt, the flame so bright it was more blinding than the ice.
“Good,” Thanatos said. “Very good, Frank Zhang. ”
Frank had heard about people’s lives flashing before their eyes, but now he experienced it literally. He saw his mother the day she left for Afghanistan. She smiled and hugged him. He tried to breath in her jasmine scent so he’d never forget it.
I will always be proud of you, Frank, she said. Someday, you’ll travel even farther than I. You’ll bring our family full circle. Years from now, our descendants will be telling stories about the hero Frank Zhang, their great-, great-, great-—She poked him in the belly for old times’ sake. It would be the last time Frank smiled for months.
He saw himself at the picnic bench in Moose Pass, watching the stars and the northern lights as Hazel snored softly beside him, Percy saying, Frank, you are a leader. We need you.
He saw Percy disappearing into the muskeg, then Hazel diving after him. Frank remembered how alone he had felt holding on to the bow, how utterly powerless. He had pleaded with the Olympian gods—even Mars—to help his friends, but he knew they were beyond the gods’ reach.
With a clank, the first chain broke. Quickly, Frank stabbed the firewood at the chain on Death’s other leg.
He risked a glance over his shoulder.
Percy was fighting like a whirlwind. In fact…he was a whirlwind. A miniature hurricane of water and ice vapor churned around him as he waded through the enemy, knocking Roman ghosts away, deflecting arrows and spears. Since when did he have that power?
He moved through the enemy lines, and even though he seemed to be leaving Frank undefended, the enemy was completely focused on Percy. Frank wasn’t sure why—then he saw Percy’s goal. One of the black vapory ghosts was wearing the lion’s-skin cape of a standard bearer and holding a pole with a golden eagle, icicles frozen to its wings. The legion’s standard.
Frank watched as Percy plowed through a line of legionnaires, scattering their shields with his personal cyclone. He knocked down the standard bearer and grabbed the eagle.
“You want it back?” he shouted at the ghosts. “Come and get it!”
He drew them away, and Frank couldn’t help being awed by his bold strategy. As much as those shades wanted to keep Thanatos chained, they were Roman spirits. Their minds were fuzzy at best, like the ghosts Frank had seen in Asphodel, but they remembered one thing clearly: they were supposed to protect their eagle.
Still, Percy couldn’t fight off that many enemies forever. Maintaining a storm like that had to be difficult. Despite the cold, his face was already beaded with sweat.
Frank looked for Hazel. He couldn’t see her or the giant.
“Watch your fire, boy,” Death warned. “You don’t have any to waste. ”
Frank cursed. He’d gotten so distracted, he hadn’t noticed the second chain had melted.
He moved his fire to the shackles on the god’s right hand. The piece of tinder was almost half gone now. Frank started to shiver. More images flashed through his mind. He saw Mars sitting at his grandmother’s bedside, looking at Frank with those nuclear explosion eyes: You’re Juno’s secret weapon. Have you figured out your gift yet?
He heard his mother say: You can be anything.
Then he saw Grandmother’s stern face, her skin as thin as rice paper, her white hair spread across her pillow. Yes, Fai Zhang. Your mother was not simply boosting your self-esteem. She was telling you the literal truth.
He thought of the grizzly bear his mother had intercepted at the edge of the woods. He thought of the large black bird circling over the flames of their family mansion.
The third chain snapped. Frank thrust the tinder at the last shackle. His body was racked with pain. Yellow splotches danced in his eyes.
He saw Percy at the end of the Via Principalis, holding off the army of ghosts. He’d overturned the chariot and destroyed several buildings, but every time he threw off a wave of attackers in his hurricane, the ghosts simply got up and charged again. Every time Percy slashed one of them down with his sword, the ghost re-formed immediately. Percy had backed up almost as far as he could go. Behind him was the side gate of the camp, and about twenty feet beyond that, the edge of the glacier.
As for Hazel, she and Alcyoneus had managed to destroy most of the barracks in their battle. Now they were fighting in the wreckage at the main gate. Arion was playing a dangerous game of tag, charging around the giant while Alyconeus swiped at them with his staff, knocking over walls and cleaving massive chasms in the ice. Only Arion’s speed kept them alive.
Finally, Death’s last chain snapped. With a desperate yelp, Frank jabbed his firewood into a pile of snow and extinguished the flame. His pain faded. He was still alive. But when he took out the piece of tinder, it was no more than a stub, smaller than a candy bar.
Thanatos raised his arms.