Mimas crashed face-first into the nearest doorway. He turned over just as the stone face of Panic cracked off the wall above him and toppled down for a one-ton kiss.
The giant’s cry was cut short. His body went still. Then he disintegrated into a twenty-foot pile of ash.
Annabeth stared at Piper. ‘What just happened?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Piper, you were amazing, but those fiery spirits you released –’
‘How does that help us find the cure we’re looking for?’
‘I don’t know. They said I could summon them when the time comes. Maybe Artemis and Apollo can explain –’
A section of the wall calved like a glacier.
Annabeth stumbled and almost slipped on the giant’s severed ear. ‘We need to get out of here.’
‘I’m working on it,’ Piper said.
‘And, uh, I think this ear is your spoil of war.’
‘Would make a lovely shield.’
‘Shut up, Chase.’ Piper stared at the second doorway, which still had the face of Fear above it. ‘Thank you, brothers, for helping to kill the giant. I need one more favour – an escape. And, believe me, I am properly terrified. I offer you this, uh, lovely ear as a sacrifice.’
The stone face made no answer. Another section of the wall peeled away. A starburst of cracks appeared in the ceiling.
Piper grabbed Annabeth’s hand. ‘We’re going through that doorway. If this works, we might find ourselves back on the surface.’
‘And if it doesn’t?’
Piper looked up at the face of Fear. ‘Let’s find out.’
The room collapsed around them as they plunged into the dark.
AT LEAST THEY DIDN’T END UP ON ANOTHER CRUISE SHIP.
The jump from Portugal had landed them in the middle of the Atlantic, where Reyna had spent her whole day on the lido deck of the Azores Queen, shooing little kids off the Athena Parthenos, which they seemed to think was a waterslide.
Unfortunately, the next jump brought Reyna home.
They appeared ten feet in the air, hovering over a restaurant courtyard that Reyna recognized. She and Nico dropped onto a large birdcage, which promptly broke, dumping them into a cluster of potted ferns along with three very alarmed parrots. Coach Hedge hit the canopy over a bar. The Athena Parthenos landed on her feet with a THUMP, flattening a patio table and flipping a dark green umbrella, which settled onto the Nike statue in Athena’s hand, so the goddess of wisdom looked like she was holding a tropical drink.
‘Gah!’ Coach Hedge yelled. The canopy ripped and he fell behind the bar with a crash of bottles and glasses. The satyr recovered well. He popped up with a dozen miniature plastic swords in his hair, grabbed the soda gun and served himself a drink.
‘I like it!’ He tossed a wedge of pineapple into his mouth. ‘But next time, kid, can we land on the floor and not ten feet above it?’
Nico dragged himself out of the ferns. He collapsed into the nearest chair and waved off a blue parrot that was trying to land on his head. After the fight with Lycaon, Nico had discarded his shredded aviator jacket. His black skull-pattern T-shirt wasn’t in much better shape. Reyna had stitched up the gashes on his biceps, which gave Nico a slightly creepy Frankenstein look, but the cuts were still swollen and red. Unlike bites, werewolf claw marks wouldn’t transmit lycanthropy, but Reyna knew firsthand that they healed slowly and burned like acid.
‘I’ve gotta sleep.’ Nico looked up in a daze. ‘Are we safe?’
Reyna scanned the courtyard. The place seemed deserted, though she didn’t understand why. This time of night, it should’ve been packed. Above them, the evening sky glowed a murky terracotta, the same colour as the building’s walls. Ringing the atrium, the second-storey balconies were empty except for potted azaleas hanging from the white metal railings. Behind a wall of glass doors, the restaurant’s interior was dark. The only sound was the fountain gurgling forlornly and the occasional squawk of a disgruntled parrot.
‘This is Barrachina,’ Reyna said.
‘What kind of bear?’ Hedge opened a jar of maraschino cherries and chugged them down.
‘It’s a famous restaurant,’ Reyna said, ‘in the middle of Old San Juan. They invented the piña colada here, back in the 1960s, I think.’
Nico pitched out of his chair, curled up on the floor and started snoring.
Coach Hedge belched. ‘Well, it looks like we’re staying for a while. If they haven’t invented any new drinks since the sixties, they’re overdue. I’ll get to work!’
While Hedge rummaged behind the bar, Reyna whistled for Aurum and Argentum. After their fight with the werewolves, the dogs looked a little worse for wear, but Reyna placed them on guard duty. She checked the street entrance to the atrium. The decorative ironwork gates were locked. A sign in Spanish and English announced that the restaurant was closed for a private party. That seemed odd, since the place was deserted. At the bottom of the sign were embossed initials: HTK. These bothered Reyna, though she wasn’t sure why.
She peered through the gates. Calle Fortaleza was unusually quiet. The blue cobblestone pavement was free of traffic and pedestrians. The pastel-coloured shop fronts were closed and dark. Was it Sunday? Or some sort of holiday? Reyna’s unease grew.
Behind her, Coach Hedge whistled happily as he set up a row of blenders. The parrots roosted on the shoulders of the Athena Parthenos. Reyna wondered whether the Greeks would be offended if their sacred statue arrived covered in tropical bird poop.
Of all the places Reyna could have ended up … San Juan.
Maybe it was a coincidence, but she feared not. Puerto Rico wasn’t really on the way from Europe to New York. It was much too far south.
Besides, Reyna had been lending Nico her strength for days now. Perhaps she’d influenced him subconsciously. He was drawn to painful thoughts, fear, darkness. And Reyna’s darkest, most painful memory was San Juan. Her biggest fear? Coming back here.
Her dogs picked up on her agitation. They prowled the courtyard, snarling at shadows. Poor Argentum turned in circles, trying to aim his sideways head so he could see out of his one ruby eye.
Reyna tried to concentrate on positive memories. She’d missed the sound of the little coquí frogs, singing around the neighbourhood like a chorus of popping bottle caps. She’d missed the smell of the ocean, the blossoming magnolias and citrus trees, the fresh-baked bread from the local panaderías. Even the humidity felt comfortable and familiar – like the scented air from a dryer vent.
Part of her wanted to open the gates and explore the city. She wanted to visit the Plaza de Armas, where the old men played dominos and the coffee kiosk sold espresso so strong it made your ears pop. She wanted to stroll down her old street, Calle San Jose, counting and naming the stray cats, making up a story for each one, the way she used to do with her sister. She wanted to break into Barrachina’s kitchen and cook up some real mofongo with fried plantains and bacon and garlic – a taste that would always remind her of Sunday afternoons, when she and Hylla could briefly escape the house and, if they were lucky, eat here in the kitchen, where the staff knew them and took pity on them.
On the other hand, Reyna wanted to leave immediately. She wanted to wake up Nico, no matter how tired he was, and force him to shadow-travel out of here – anywhere but San Juan.
Being so close to her old house made Reyna feel ratcheted tight like a catapult winch.
She glanced at Nico. Despite the warm night, he shivered on the tile floor. She pulled a blanket out of her pack and covered him up.
Reyna no longer felt self-conscious about wanting to protect him. For better or worse, they shared a connection now. Each time they shadow-travelled, his exhaustion and torment washed over her and she understood him a little better.
Nico was devastatingly alone. He’d lost his big sister Bianca. He’d pushed away all other demigo
ds who’d tried to get close to him. His experiences at Camp Half-Blood, in the Labyrinth and in Tartarus had left him scarred, afraid to trust anyone.
Reyna doubted she could change his feelings, but she wanted Nico to have support. All heroes deserved that. It was the whole point of the Twelfth Legion. You joined forces to fight for a higher cause. You weren’t alone. You made friends and earned respect. Even when you mustered out, you had a place in the community. No demigod should have to suffer alone the way Nico did.
Tonight was 25 July. Seven more days until 1 August. In theory, that was plenty of time to reach Long Island. Once they completed their mission, if they completed their mission, Reyna would make sure Nico was recognized for his bravery.
She slipped off her backpack. She tried to place it under Nico’s head as a makeshift pillow, but her fingers passed right through him as if he were a shadow. She recoiled her hand.
Cold with dread, she tried again. This time, she was able to lift his neck and slide the pillow under. His skin felt cool, but otherwise normal.
Had she been hallucinating?
Nico had expended so much energy travelling through shadows … perhaps he was starting to fade permanently. If he kept pushing himself to the limit for seven more days …
The sound of a blender startled her out of her thoughts.
‘You want a smoothie?’ asked the coach. ‘This one is pineapple, mango, orange and banana, buried under a mound of shaved coconut. I call it the Hercules!’
‘I – I’m all right, thanks.’ She glanced up at the balconies ringing the atrium. It still didn’t seem right to her that the restaurant was empty. A private party. HTK. ‘Coach, I think I’ll scout the second floor. I don’t like –’
A wisp of movement caught her eye. The balcony on the right – a dark shape. Above that, at the edge of the roof, several more silhouettes appeared against the orange clouds.
Reyna drew her sword, but it was too late.
A flash of silver, a faint whoosh, and the point of a needle buried itself in her neck. Her vision blurred. Her limbs turned to spaghetti. She collapsed next to Nico.
As her eyes dimmed, she saw her dogs running towards her, but they froze in mid-bark and toppled over.
At the bar, the coach yelled, ‘Hey!’
Another whoosh. The coach collapsed with a silver dart in his neck.
Reyna tried to say, Nico, wake up. Her voice wouldn’t work. Her body had been deactivated as completely as her metal dogs had.
Dark figures lined the rooftop. Half a dozen leaped into the courtyard, silent and graceful.
One leaned over Reyna. She could only make out a hazy smudge of grey.