‘Who wants to be the next Popsicle?’ she yelled, channelling anger into her charmspeak. ‘Who wants to go back to Tartarus?’
That seemed to hit a nerve. The giants shuffled uneasily, glancing at the frozen body of Periboia.
And why shouldn’t Piper intimidate them? Aphrodite was the most ancient Olympian, born of the sea and the blood of Ouranos. She was older than Poseidon or Athena or even Zeus. And Piper was her daughter.
More than that, she was a McLean. Her father had come from nothing. Now he was known all over the world. The McLeans didn’t retreat. Like all Cherokee, they knew how to endure suffering, keep their pride and, when necessary, fight back. This was the time to fight back.
Forty feet away, Percy bent over the giant king, trying to yank a sword from the braids of his hair. But Porphyrion wasn’t as stunned as he let on.
‘Fools!’ Porphyrion backhanded Percy like a pesky fly. The son of Poseidon flew into a column with a sickening crunch.
Porphyrion rose. ‘These demigods cannot kill us! They do not have the help of the gods. Remember who you are!’
The giants closed in. A dozen spears were pointed at Piper’s chest.
Annabeth struggled to her feet. She retrieved Periboia’s hunting knife, but she could barely stand upright, much less fight. Each time a drop of her blood hit the ground it bubbled, turning from red to gold.
Percy tried to stand, but he was obviously dazed. He wouldn’t be able to defend himself.
Piper’s only choice was to keep the giants focused on her.
‘Come on, then!’ she yelled. ‘I’ll destroy you all myself if I have to!’
A metallic smell of storm filled the air. All the hairs on Piper’s arms stood up.
‘The thing is,’ said a voice from above, ‘you don’t have to.’
Piper’s heart could’ve floated out of her body. At the top of the nearest colonnade stood Jason, his sword gleaming gold in the sun. Frank stood at his side, his bow ready. Hazel sat astride Arion, who reared and whinnied in challenge.
With a deafening blast, a white-hot bolt arced from the sky, straight through Jason’s body as he leaped, wreathed in lightning, at the giant king.
FOR THE NEXT THREE MINUTES, LIFE WAS GREAT.
So much happened at once that only an ADHD demigod could have kept track.
Jason fell on King Porphyrion with such force that the giant crumpled to his knees – blasted with lightning and stabbed in the neck with a golden gladius.
Frank unleashed a hail of arrows, driving back the giants nearest to Percy.
The Argo II rose above the ruins and all the ballistae and catapults fired simultaneously. Leo must have programmed the weapons with surgical precision. A wall of Greek fire roared upward all around the Parthenon. It didn’t touch the interior, but in a flash most of the smaller monsters around it were incinerated.
Leo’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker: ‘SURRENDER! YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY ONE SPANKING HOT WAR MACHINE!’
The giant Enceladus howled in outrage. ‘Valdez!’
‘WHAT’S UP, ENCHILADAS?’ Leo’s voice roared back. ‘NICE DAGGER IN YOUR FOREHEAD.’
‘GAH!’ The giant pulled Katoptris out of his head. ‘Monsters: destroy that ship!’
The remaining forces tried their best. A flock of gryphons rose to attack. Festus the figurehead blew flames and chargrilled them out of the sky. A few Earthborn launched a volley of rocks, but from the sides of the hull a dozen Archimedes spheres sprayed out, intercepting the boulders and blasting them to dust.
‘PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!’ Buford ordered.
Hazel spurred Arion off the colonnade and they leaped into battle. The forty-foot fall would have broken any other horse’s legs, but Arion hit the ground running. Hazel zipped from giant to giant, stinging them with the blade of her spatha.
With extremely bad timing, Kekrops and his snake people chose that moment to join the fight. In four or five places around the ruins, the ground turned to green goo and armed gemini burst forth, Kekrops himself in the lead.
‘Kill the demigods!’ he hissed. ‘Kill the tricksters!’
Before many of his warriors could follow, Hazel pointed her blade at the nearest tunnel. The ground rumbled. All the gooey membranes popped and the tunnels collapsed, billowing plumes of dust. Kekrops looked around at his army, now reduced to six guys.
‘SLITHER AWAY!’ he ordered.
Frank’s arrows cut them down as they tried to retreat.
The giantess Periboia had thawed with alarming speed. She tried to grab Annabeth, but, despite her bad leg, Annabeth was holding her own. She stabbed at the giantess with her own hunting knife and led her in a deadly game of tag around the throne.
Percy was back on his feet, Riptide once again in his hands. He still looked dazed. His nose was bleeding. But he seemed to be standing his ground against the old giant Thoon, who had somehow reattached his hand and found his meat cleaver.
Piper stood back to back with Jason, fighting every giant who dared to come close. For a moment she felt elated. They were actually winning!
But too soon their element of surprise faded. The giants overcame their confusion.
Frank ran out of arrows. He changed into a rhinoceros and leaped into battle, but as fast as he could knock down the giants they got up again. Their wounds seemed to be healing faster.
Annabeth lost ground against Periboia. Hazel was knoc
ked out of her saddle at sixty miles an hour. Jason summoned another lightning strike, but this time Porphyrion simply deflected it off the tip of his spear.
The giants were bigger, stronger and more numerous. They couldn’t be killed without the help of the gods. And they didn’t seem to be tiring.
The six demigods were forced into a defensive ring.
Another volley of Earthborn rocks hit the Argo II. This time Leo couldn’t return fire fast enough. Rows of oars were sheared off. The ship shuddered and tilted in the sky.
Then Enceladus threw his fiery spear. It pierced the ship’s hull and exploded inside, sending spouts of fire through the oar openings. An ominous black cloud billowed from the deck. The Argo II began to sink.
‘Leo!’ Jason cried.
Porphyrion laughed. ‘You demigods have learned nothing. There are no gods to aid you. We need only one more thing from you to make our victory complete.’
The giant king smiled expectantly. He seemed to be looking at Percy Jackson.
Piper glanced over. Percy’s nose was still bleeding. He seemed unaware that a trickle of blood had made its way down his face to the end of his chin.
‘Percy, look out …’ Piper tried to say, but for once her voice failed her.
A single drop of blood fell from his chin. It hit the ground between his feet and sizzled like water on a frying pan.
The blood of Olympus watered the ancient stones.
The Acropolis groaned and shifted as the Earth Mother woke.
ABOUT FIVE MILES EAST OF CAMP, a black SUV was parked on the beach.
They tied up the boat at a private dock. Nico helped Dakota and Leila haul Michael Kahale ashore. The big guy was still only half-conscious, mumbling what Nico assumed were football calls: ‘Red twelve. Right thirty-one. Hike.’ Then he giggled uncontrollably.
‘We’ll leave him here,’ Leila said. ‘Just don’t bind him. Poor guy …’
‘What about the car?’ Dakota asked. ‘The keys are in the glove compartment, but, uh, can you drive?’
Leila frowned. ‘I thought you could drive. Aren’t you seventeen?’
‘I never learned!’ Dakota said. ‘I was busy.’
‘I’ve got it covered,’ Nico promised.
They both looked at him.
‘You’re, like, fourteen,’ Leila said.
Nico enjoyed how nervous the Romans acted around him, even though they were older and bigger and more experienced fighters. ‘I didn’t say I would be behind the wheel.’
He knelt and placed his hand on the ground. He felt the nearest graves, the bones of forgotten humans buried and scattered. He searched deeper, extending his senses into the Underworld. ‘Jules-Albert. Let’s go.’
The ground split. A zombie in a ragged nineteenth-century motoring outfit clawed his way to the surface. Leila stepped back. Dakota screamed like a kindergartner.
‘What is that, man?’ Dakota protested.