Monday, April 14, 2014

The Mark of Athena - LII Leo

Everything had happened so quickly. They had secured grappling lines to the Athena Parthenos just as the floor gave way, and the final columns of webbing snapped. Jason and Frank dove down to save the others, but they’d only found Nico and Hazel hanging from the rope ladder. Percy and Annabeth were gone. The pit to Tartarus had been buried under several tons of debris. Leo pulled the Argo II out of the cavern seconds before the entire place imploded, taking the rest of the parking lot with it.
The Argo II was now parked on a hill overlooking the city. Jason, Hazel, and Frank had returned to the scene of the catastrophe, hoping to dig through the rubble and find a way to save Percy and Annabeth, but they’d come back demoralized. The cavern was simply gone. The scene was swarming with police and rescue workers. No mortals had been hurt, but the Italians would be scratching their heads for months, wondering how a massive sinkhole had opened right in the middle of a parking lot and swallowed a dozen perfectly good cars.
Dazed with grief, Leo and the others carefully loaded the Athena Parthenos into the hold, using the ship’s hydraulic winches with an assist from Frank Zhang, part-time elephant. The statue just fit, though what they were going to do with it, Leo had no idea.
Coach Hedge was too miserable to help. He kept pacing the deck with tears in his eyes, pulling at his goatee and slapping the side of his head, muttering, “I should have saved them! I should have blown up more stuff!”
Finally Leo told him to go belowdecks and secure everything for departure. He wasn’t doing any good beating himself up.
The six demigods gathered on the quarterdeck and gazed at the distant column of dust still rising from the site of the implosion.
Leo rested his hand on the Archimedes sphere, which now sat on the helm, ready to be installed. He should have been excited. It was the biggest discovery of his life—even bigger than Bunker 9. If he could decipher Archimedes’s scrolls, he could do amazing things. He hardly dared to hope, but he might even be able to build a new control disk for a certain dragon friend of his.
Still, the price had been too high.
He could almost hear Nemesis laughing. I told you we could do business, Leo Valdez.
He had opened the fortune cookie. He’d gotten the access code for the sphere and saved Frank and Hazel. But the sacrifice had been Percy and Annabeth. Leo was sure of it.
“It’s my fault,” he said miserably.
The others stared at him. Only Hazel seemed to understand. She’d been with him at the Great Salt Lake.
“No,” she insisted. “No, this is Gaea’s fault. It had nothing to do with you.”
Leo wanted to believe that, but he couldn’t. They’d started this voyage with Leo messing up, firing on New Rome. They’d ended in old Rome with Leo breaking a cookie and paying a price much worse than an eye.
“Leo, listen to me.” Hazel gripped his hand. “I won’t allow you to take the blame. I couldn’t bear that after—after Sammy…”
She choked up, but Leo knew what she meant. His bisabuelo had blamed himself for Hazel’s disappearance. Sammy had lived a good life, but he’d gone to his grave believing that he’d spent a cursed diamond and doomed the girl he loved.
Leo didn’t want to make Hazel miserable all over again, but this was different. True success requires sacrifice. Leo had chosen to break that cookie. Percy and Annabeth had fallen into Tartarus. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
Nico di Angelo shuffled over, leaning on his black sword. “Leo, they’re not dead. If they were, I could feel it.”
“How can you be sure?” Leo asked. “If that pit really led to…you know…how could you sense them so far away?”
Nico and Hazel shared a look, maybe comparing notes on their Hades/Pluto death radar. Leo shivered. Hazel had never seemed like a child of the Underworld to him, but Nico di Angelo—that guy was creepy.
“We can’t be one hundred percent sure,” Hazel admitted. “But I think Nico is right. Percy and Annabeth are still alive…at least, so far.”
Jason pounded his fist against the rail. “I should’ve been paying attention. I could have flown down and saved them.”
“Me, too,” Frank moaned. The big dude looked on the verge of tears.
Piper put her hand on Jason’s back. “It’s not your fault, either of you. You were trying to save the statue.”
“She’s right,” Nico said. “Even if the pit hadn’t been buried, you couldn’t have flown into it without being pulled down. I’m the only one who has actually been into Tartarus. It’s impossible to describe how powerful that place is. Once you get close, it sucks you in. I never stood a chance.”
Frank sniffled. “Then Percy and Annabeth don’t stand a chance either?”
Nico twisted his silver skull ring. “Percy is the most powerful demigod I’ve ever met. No offense to you guys, but it’s true. If anybody can survive, he will, especially if he’s got Annabeth at his side. They’re going to find a way through Tartarus.”
Jason turned. “To the Doors of Death, you mean. But you told us it’s guarded by Gaea’s most powerful forces. How could two demigods possibly—?”
“I don’t know,” Nico admitted. “But Percy told me to lead you guys to Epirus, to the mortal side of the doorway. He’s planning on meeting us there. If we can survive the House of Hades, fight our way through Gaea’s forces, then maybe we can work together with Percy and Annabeth and seal the Doors of Death from both sides.”
“And get Percy and Annabeth back safely?” Leo asked.
Leo didn’t like the way Nico said that, as if he wasn’t sharing all his doubts. Besides, Leo knew something about locks and doors. If the Doors of Death needed to be sealed from both sides, how could they do that unless someone stayed in the Underworld, trapped?
Nico took a deep breath. “I don’t know how they’ll manage it, but Percy and Annabeth will find a way. They’ll journey through Tartarus and find the Doors of Death. When they do, we have to be ready.”
“It won’t be easy,” Hazel said. “Gaea will throw everything she’s got at us to keep us from reaching Epirus.”
“What else is new?” Jason sighed.
Piper nodded. “We’ve got no choice. We have to seal the Doors of Death before we can stop the giants from raising Gaea. Otherwise her armies will never die. And we’ve got to hurry. The Romans are in New York. Soon, they’ll be marching on Camp Half-Blood.”
“We’ve got one month at best,” Jason added. “Ephialtes said Gaea would awaken in exactly one month.”
Leo straightened. “We can do it.”
Everyone stared at him.
“The Archimedes sphere can upgrade the ship,” he said, hoping he was right. “I’m going to study those ancient scrolls we got. There’s got to be all kinds of new weapons I can make. We’re going to hit Gaea’s armies with a whole new arsenal of hurt.”
At the prow of the ship, Festus creaked his jaw and blew fire defiantly.
Jason managed a smile. He clapped Leo on the shoulder.
“Sounds like a plan, Admiral. You want to set the course?”
They kidded him, calling him Admiral, but for once Leo accepted the title. This was his ship. He hadn’t come this far to be stopped.
They would find this House of Hades. They’d take the Doors of Death. And by the gods, if Leo had to design a grabber arm long enough to snatch Percy and Annabeth out of Tartarus, then that’s what he would do.
Nemesis wanted him to wreak vengeance on Gaea? Leo would be happy to oblige. He was going to make Gaea sorry she had ever messed with Leo Valdez.
“Yeah.” He took one last look at the cityscape of Rome, turning bloodred in the sunset. “Festus, raise the sails. We’ve got some friends to save.”
Α∪Ε alpha, theta, epsilon. In Greek it stands for of the Athenians, or the children of Athena.
Achelous a potamus, or river god
Alcyoneus the eldest of the giants born to Gaea, destined to fight Pluto
Amazons a nation of all-female warriors
Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love and beauty. She was married to Hephaestus, but she loved Ares, the god of war. Roman form: Venus
Arachne a weaver who claimed to have skills superior to Athena’s. This angered the goddess, who destroyed Arachne’s tapestry and loom. Arachne hung herself, and Athena brought her back to life as a spider.
Archimedes a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer who lived between 287 and 212 BCE and is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity
Ares the Greek god of war; the son of Zeus and Hera, and half brother to Athena. Roman form: Mars
argentum silver
Argo II the fantastical ship built by Leo, which can both sail and fly and has Festus’s bronze dragon head as its figurehead. The ship was named after the Argo, the vessel used by a band of Greek heroes who accompanied Jason on his quest to find the Golden Fleece.
Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom. Roman form: Minerva
Athena Parthenos a giant statue of Athena: the most famous Greek statue of all time
augury a sign of something coming, an omen; the practice of divining the future
aurum gold
Bacchus the Roman god of wine and revelry. Greek form: Dionysus
ballista (ballistae, pl.) a Roman missile siege weapon that launched a large projectile at a distant target (see also Scorpion ballista)
Bellona a Roman goddess of war
Camp Half-Blood the training ground for Greek demigods, located on Long Island, New York
Camp Jupiter the training ground for Roman demigods, located between the Oakland Hills and the Berkeley Hills, in California
Celestial bronze a rare metal deadly to monsters
centaur a race of creatures that is half human, half horse
centurion an officer of the Roman army
Ceres the Roman goddess of agriculture. Greek form: Demeter
charmspeak a blessing bestowed by Aphrodite on her children that enables them to persuade others with their voice
chiton a Greek garment; a sleeveless piece of linen or wool secured at the shoulders by brooches and at the waist by a belt
Chrysaor the brother of Pegasus, the son of Poseidon and Medusa; known as “the Gold Sword”
Circe a Greek sorceress. In ancient times, she turned Odysseus’s crew into swine.
Colosseum an elliptical amphitheater in the center of Rome, Italy. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas.
cornucopia a large horn-shaped container overflowing with edibles or wealth in some form. The cornucopia was created when Heracles (Roman: Hercules) wrestled with the river god Achelous and wrenched off one of his horns.
Cyclops a member of a primordial race of giants (Cyclopes, pl.), each with a single eye in the middle of his or her forehead
Daedalus in Greek mythology, a skilled craftsman who created the Labyrinth on Crete in which the Minotaur (part man, part bull) was kept
Deianira Heracles’s second wife. She was of such striking beauty that both Heracles and Achelous wanted to marry her and there was a contest to win her hand. The centaur Nessus tricked her into killing Heracles by dipping his tunic in what she thought was a love potion but was actually Nessus’s poisonous blood.
Demeter the Greek goddess of agriculture, a daughter of the Titans Rhea and Kronos. Roman form: Ceres
denarius (denarii, pl.) the most common coin in the Roman currency system
Dionysus the Greek god of wine and revelry, a son of Zeus. Roman form: Bacchus
Doors of Death a well-hidden passageway that when open allows souls to travel from the Underworld to the world of mortals
drachma the silver coin of Ancient Greece
drakon gigantic serpent
eidolon possessing spirit
Ephialtes and Otis twin giants, sons of Gaea
Epirus a region presently in northwestern Greece and southern Albania
Eurystheus a grandson of Perseus, who, through the favor of Hera, inherited the kingship of Mycenae, which Zeus had intended for Heracles
faun a Roman forest god, part goat and part man. Greek form: satyr
Fortuna the Roman goddess of fortune and good luck. Greek form: Tyche
Forum The Roman Forum was the center of ancient Rome, a plaza where Romans conducted business, trials, and religious activities.
Gaea the Greek earth goddess; mother of Titans, giants, Cyclopes, and other monsters. Roman form: Terra
gladius a short sword
Gorgons three monstrous sisters who have hair of living, venomous snakes. The most famous, Medusa, had eyes that turned the beholder to stone.
greaves shin armor
Greek fire an incendiary weapon used in naval battles because it can continue burning in water
Hades the Greek god of death and riches. Roman form: Pluto
Hadrian a Roman Emperor who ruled from 117 to 138 CE. He is best known for building Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he rebuilt the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma.
Hagno a nymph who is said to have brought up Zeus. On Mount Lycaeus in Arcadia there was a well sacred to and named after her.
harpy a winged female creature that snatches things
Hebe the goddess of youth; the daughter of Zeus and Hera, and married to Heracles. Roman form: Juventas
Hephaestus the Greek god of fire and crafts and of blacksmiths; the son of Zeus and Hera, and married to Aphrodite. Roman form: Vulcan
Hera the Greek goddess of marriage; Zeus’s wife and sister. Roman form: Juno
Heracles the Greek equivalent of Hercules; the son of Zeus and Alcmene; the strongest of all mortals
Hercules the Roman equivalent of Heracles; the son of Jupiter and Alcmene, who was born with great strength
hippocampi creatures that from the waist up have the body of a horse and from the waist down have silvery fish bodies, with glistening scales and rainbow tail fins. They were used to draw Poseidon’s chariot, and sea foam was created by their movement.
hippodrome a Greek stadium for horse racing and chariot racing
House of Hades an underground temple in Epirus, Greece, dedicated to the Hades and Persephone, sometimes called a necromanteion, or “oracle of death.” Ancient Greeks believed it marked one entrance to the Underworld, and pilgrims would go there to commune with the dead.
hypogeum the area under a coliseum that housed set pieces and machinery used for special effects
ichthyocentaur a fish-centaur described as having the forefeet of a horse, a human torso and head, and a fish tail. It is sometimes shown with a pair of lobster-claw horns.
Imperial gold a rare metal deadly to monsters, consecrated at the Pantheon; its existence was a closely guarded secret of the emperors
Invidia the Roman goddess of revenge. Greek form: Nemesis
Iris the Greek rainbow goddess and a messenger of the gods; the daughter of Thaumas and Electra. Roman form: Iris
Juno the Roman goddess of women, marriage, and fertility; sister and wife of Jupiter; mother of Mars. Greek form: Hera
Jupiter the Roman king of the gods; also called Jupiter Optimus Maximus (the best and the greatest). Greek form: Zeus
Juventas the Roman goddess of youth. Greek form: Hebe
Kalends of July the first day of July, which was sacred to Juno
karpoi grain spirits
Katoptris Piper’s dagger, once owned by Helen of Troy. The word means “looking glass.”
Keto the Greek goddess of sea monsters and large sea creatures, such as whales and sharks. She is the daughter of Gaea and the sister-wife of Phorcys, god of the dangers of the sea.
Khione the Greek goddess of snow; daughter of Boreas
Kronos the Greek god of agriculture, the son of Uranus and Gaea and the father of Zeus. Roman form: Saturn
Lar a house god, ancestral spirit of Rome (Lares, pl.).
Lupa the sacred Roman she-wolf that nursed the foundling twins Romulus and Remus
Marcus Agrippa a Roman statesman and general; defense minister to Octavian, and responsible for most of his military victories. He commissioned the Pantheon as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome.
Mare Nostrum Latin for Our Sea, was a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea
Mars the Roman god of war; also called Mars Ultor. Patron of the empire; divine father of Romulus and Remus. Greek form: Ares
Minerva the Roman goddess of wisdom. Greek form: Athena
Minotaur a monster with the head of a bull on the body of a man
Mist a magic force that disguises things from mortals
Mithras Originally a Persian god of the sun, Mithras was worshipped by Roman warriors as a guardian of arms and a patron of soldiers.
muskeg bog
Narcissus a Greek hunter who was renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud and disdained those who loved him. Nemesis saw this and attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his reflection in the water and fell in love with it. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus died.
Nemesis the Greek goddess of revenge. Roman form: Invidia
Neptune the Roman god of the sea. Greek form: Poseidon
Nereids fifty female sea spirits; patrons of sailors and fishermen and caretakers of the sea’s bounty
Nessus a crafty centaur who tricked Deianira into killing Heracles
New Rome a community near Camp Jupiter where demigods can live together in peace, without interference from mortals or monsters
Nike the Greek goddess of strength, speed, and victory. Roman form: Victoria
nymph a female nature deity who animates nature
nymphaeum a shrine to nymphs
Pantheon a building in Rome, Italy, commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 CE
pater Latin for father; also the name of an ancient Roman god of the Underworld, later subsumed by Pluto
pauldron a piece of plate armor for the shoulder and the upper part of the arm
Pegasus In Greek mythology, a winged divine horse; sired by Poseidon, in his role as horse-god, and foaled by the Gorgon Medusa; the brother of Chrysaor
Persephone the Greek queen of the Underworld; wife of Hades; daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Roman form: Proserpine
Phorcys In Greek mythology, a primordial god of the dangers of the sea; son of Gaea; brother-husband of Keto
Piazza Navona a city square in Rome, built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, where Ancient Romans watched competitive games
Pluto the Roman god of death and riches. Greek form: Hades
Polybotes the giant son of Gaea, the Earth Mother
Pomerian Line the boundary around New Rome, and in ancient times, the city limits of Rome
Porphyrion the king of the Giants in Greek and Roman mythology
Poseidon the Greek god of the sea; son of the Titans Kronos and Rhea, and brother of Zeus and Hades. Roman form: Neptune
praetor an elected Roman magistrate and commander of the army
Proserpine Roman queen of the Underworld. Greek form: Persephone
Rhea Silvia a priestess and mother of the twins Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome
Riptide the name of Percy Jackson’s sword (Anaklusmos in Greek)
Romulus and Remus the twin sons of Mars and the priestess Rhea Silvia. They were thrown into the River Tiber by their human father, Amulius, and rescued and raised by a she-wolf. Upon reaching adulthood, they founded Rome.
Saturn the Roman god of agriculture; the son of Uranus and Gaea, and the father of Jupiter. Greek form: Kronos
satyr a Greek forest god, part goat and part man. Roman equivalent: faun
Scorpion ballista a Roman missile siege weapon that launched a large projectile at a distant target
Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR) meaning “The Senate and People of Rome,” refers to the government of the Roman Republic and is used as an official emblem of Rome
skolopendra a gargantuan Greek sea monster with hairy nostrils, a flat crayfish-like tail, and rows of webbed feet lining its flanks
Stymphalian birds in Greek mythology, man-eating birds with bronze beaks and sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims; sacred to Ares, the god of war
Sybilline Books a collection of prophecies in rhyme written in Greek. Tarquinius Superbus, a king of Rome, bought them from a prophetess named Sibyl and consulted them in times of great danger.
Tartarus husband of Gaea; spirit of the abyss; father of the giants
telkhines mysterious sea demons and smiths native to the islands of Kaos and Rhodes; children of Thalassa and Pontus; they had flippers instead of hands and dogs’ heads and were known as fish children
Terminus the Roman god of boundaries and landmarks
Terra the Roman goddess of the Earth. Greek form: Gaea
Thanatos the Greek god of death. Roman form: Letus
thyrsus Bacchus’s weapon, a staff topped by a pinecone and twined with ivy
Tiber River the third-longest river in Italy. Rome was founded on its banks. In Ancient Rome, executed criminals were thrown into the river.
Tiberius was Roman Emperor from 14 CE to 37 CE. He was one of Rome’s greatest generals, but he came to be remembered as a reclusive and somber ruler who never really wanted to be emperor.
Titans a race of powerful Greek deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, who ruled during the Golden Age and were overthrown by a race of younger gods, the Olympians
Trevi Fountain a fountain in the Trevi district in Rome. Standing more than eighty-five feet high and sixty-five feet wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.
trireme an Ancient Greek or Roman warship, having three tiers of oars on each side
Tyche the Greek goddess of good luck; daughter of Hermes and Aphrodite. Roman form: Fortuna
Venus the Roman goddess of love and beauty. She was married to Vulcan, but she loved Mars, the god of war. Greek form: Aphrodite
Vestal Virgins Roman priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The Vestals were free of the usual social obligations to marry and bear children and took a vow of chastity in order to devote themselves to the study and observance of ritual.
Via Labicana an ancient road of Italy, leading east-southeast from Rome
Via Principalis the main street in a Roman camp or fort
Victoria the Roman goddess of strength, speed, and victory. Greek form: Nike
Vulcan the Roman god of fire and crafts and of blacksmiths; the son of Jupiter and Juno, and married to Venus. Greek form: Hephaestus
Wolf House a ruined mansion, originally commissioned by Jack London near Sonoma, California, where Percy Jackson was trained as a Roman demigod by Lupa
Zeus Greek god of the sky and king of the gods. Roman form: Jupiter

The Mark of Athena - LI Annabeth

ANNABETH HAD SEEN SOME STRANGE THINGS BEFORE, but she’d never seen it rain cars.
As the roof of the cavern collapsed, sunlight blinded her. She got the briefest glimpse of the Argo II hovering above. It must have used its ballistae to blast a hole straight through the ground.
Chunks of asphalt as big as garage doors tumbled down, along with six or seven Italian cars. One would’ve crushed the Athena Parthenos, but the statue’s glowing aura acted like a force field, and the car bounced off. Unfortunately, it fell straight toward Annabeth.
She jumped to one side, twisting her bad foot. A wave of agony almost made her pass out, but she flipped on her back in time to see a bright red Fiat 500 slam into Arachne’s silk trap, punching through the cavern floor and disappearing with the Chinese Spidercuffs.
As Arachne fell, she screamed like a freight train on a collision course; but her wailing rapidly faded. All around Annabeth, more chunks of debris slammed through the floor, riddling it with holes.
The Athena Parthenos remained undamaged, though the marble under its pedestal was a starburst of fractures. Annabeth was covered in cobwebs. She trailed strands of leftover spider silk from her arms and legs like the strings of a marionette, but somehow, amazingly, none of the debris had hit her. She wanted to believe that the statue had protected her, though she suspected it might’ve been nothing but luck.
The army of spiders had disappeared. Either they had fled back into the darkness, or they’d fallen into the chasm. As daylight flooded the cavern, Arachne’s tapestries along the walls crumbled to dust, which Annabeth could hardly bear to watch—especially the tapestry depicting her and Percy.
But none of that mattered when she heard Percy’s voice from above: “Annabeth!”
“Here!” she sobbed.
All the terror seemed to leave her in one massive yelp. As the Argo II descended, she saw Percy leaning over the rail. His smile was better than any tapestry she’d ever seen.
The room kept shaking, but Annabeth managed to stand. The floor at her feet seemed stable for the moment. Her backpack was missing, along with Daedalus’s laptop. Her bronze knife, which she’d had since she was seven, was also gone—probably fallen into the pit. But Annabeth didn’t care. She was alive.
She edged closer to the gaping hole made by the Fiat 500. Jagged rock walls plunged into the darkness as far as Annabeth could see. A few small ledges jutted out here and there, but Annabeth saw nothing on them—just strands of spider silk dripping over the sides like Christmas tinsel.
Annabeth wondered if Arachne had told the truth about the chasm. Had the spider fallen all the way to Tartarus? She tried to feel satisfied with that idea, but it made her sad. Arachne had made some beautiful things. She’d already suffered for eons. Now her last tapestries had crumbled. After all that, falling into Tartarus seemed like too harsh an end.
Annabeth was dimly aware of the Argo II hovering to a stop about forty feet from the floor. It lowered a rope ladder, but Annabeth stood in a daze, staring into the darkness. Then suddenly Percy was next to her, lacing his fingers in hers.
He turned her gently away from the pit and wrapped his arms around her. She buried her face in his chest and broke down in tears.
“It’s okay,” he said. “We’re together.”
He didn’t say you’re okay, or we’re alive. After all they’d been through over the last year, he knew the most important thing was that they were together. She loved him for saying that.
Their friends gathered around them. Nico di Angelo was there, but Annabeth’s thoughts were so fuzzy, this didn’t seem surprising to her. It seemed only right that he would be with them.
“Your leg.” Piper knelt next to her and examined the Bubble Wrap cast. “Oh, Annabeth, what happened?”
She started to explain. Talking was difficult, but as she went along, her words came more easily. Percy didn’t let go of her hand, which also made her feel more confident. When she finished, her friends’ faces were slack with amazement.
“Gods of Olympus,” Jason said. “You did all that alone. With a broken ankle.”
“Well…some of it with a broken ankle.”
Percy grinned. “You made Arachne weave her own trap? I knew you were good, but Holy Hera—Annabeth, you did it. Generations of Athena kids tried and failed. You found the Athena Parthenos!”
Everyone gazed at the statue.
“What do we do with her?” Frank asked. “She’s huge.”
“We’ll have to take her with us to Greece,” Annabeth said. “The statue is powerful. Something about it will help us stop the giants.”
“The giants’ bane stands gold and pale,” Hazel quoted. “Won with pain from a woven jail.” She looked at Annabeth with admiration. “It was Arachne’s jail. You tricked her into weaving it.”
With a lot of pain, Annabeth thought.
Leo raised his hands. He made a finger picture frame around the Athena Parthenos like he was taking measurements. “Well, it might take some rearranging, but I think we can fit her through the bay doors in the stable. If she sticks out the end, I might have to wrap a flag around her feet or something.”
Annabeth shuddered. She imagined the Athena Parthenos jutting from their trireme with a sign across her pedestal that read: WIDE LOAD.
Then she thought about the other lines of the prophecy: The twins snuff out the angel’s breath, who holds the keys to endless death.
“What about you guys?” she asked. “What happened with the giants?”
Percy told her about rescuing Nico, the appearance of Bacchus, and the fight with the twins in the Colosseum. Nico didn’t say much. The poor guy looked like he’d been wandering through a wasteland for six weeks. Percy explained what Nico had found out about the Doors of Death, and how they had to be closed on both sides. Even with sunlight streaming in from above, Percy’s news made the cavern seem dark again.
“So the mortal side is in Epirus,” she said. “At least that’s somewhere we can reach.”
Nico grimaced. “But the other side is the problem. Tartarus.”
The word seemed to echo through the chamber. The pit behind them exhaled a cold blast of air. That’s when Annabeth knew with certainty. The chasm did go straight to the Underworld.
Percy must have felt it too. He guided her a little farther from the edge. Her arms and legs trailed spider silk like a bridal train. She wished she had her dagger to cut that junk off. She almost asked Percy to do the honors with Riptide, but before she could, he said, “Bacchus mentioned something about my voyage being harder than I expected. Not sure why—”
The chamber groaned. The Athena Parthenos tilted to one side. Its head caught on one of Arachne’s support cables, but the marble foundation under the pedestal was crumbling.
Nausea swelled in Annabeth’s chest. If the statue fell into the chasm, all her work would be for nothing. Their quest would fail.
“Secure it!” Annabeth cried.
Her friends understood immediately.
“Zhang!” Leo cried. “Get me to the helm, quick! The coach is up there alone.”
Frank transformed into a giant eagle, and the two of them soared toward the ship.
Jason wrapped his arm around Piper. He turned to Percy. “Back for you guys in a sec.” He summoned the wind and shot into the air.
“This floor won’t last!” Hazel warned. “The rest of us should get to the ladder.”
Plumes of dust and cobwebs blasted from holes in the floor. The spider’s silk support cables trembled like massive guitar strings and began to snap. Hazel lunged for the bottom of the rope ladder and gestured for Nico to follow, but Nico was in no condition to sprint.
Percy gripped Annabeth’s hand tighter. “It’ll be fine,” he muttered.
Looking up, she saw grappling lines shoot from the Argo II and wrap around the statue. One lassoed Athena’s neck like a noose. Leo shouted orders from the helm as Jason and Frank flew frantically from line to line, trying to secure them.
Nico had just reached the ladder when a sharp pain shot up Annabeth’s bad leg. She gasped and stumbled.
“What is it?” Percy asked.
She tried to stagger toward the ladder. Why was she moving backward instead? Her legs swept out from under her and she fell on her face.
“Her ankle!” Hazel shouted from the ladder. “Cut it! Cut it!”
Annabeth’s mind was woolly from the pain. Cut her ankle?
Apparently Percy didn’t realize what Hazel meant either. Then something yanked Annabeth backward and dragged her toward the pit. Percy lunged. He grabbed her arm, but the momentum carried him along as well.
“Help them!” Hazel yelled.
Annabeth glimpsed Nico hobbling in their direction, Hazel trying to disentangle her cavalry sword from the rope ladder. Their other friends were still focused on the statue, and Hazel’s cry was lost in the general shouting and the rumbling of the cavern.
Annabeth sobbed as she hit the edge of the pit. Her legs went over the side. Too late, she realized what was happening: she was tangled in the spider silk. She should have cut it away immediately. She had thought it was just loose line, but with the entire floor covered in cobwebs, she hadn’t noticed that one of the strands was wrapped around her foot—and the other end went straight into the pit. It was attached to something heavy down in the darkness, something that was pulling her in.
“No,” Percy muttered, light dawning in his eyes. “My sword…”
But he couldn’t reach Riptide without letting go of Annabeth’s arm, and Annabeth’s strength was gone. She slipped over the edge. Percy fell with her.
Her body slammed into something. She must have blacked out briefly from the pain. When she could see again, she realized that she’d fallen partway into the pit and was dangling over the void.
Percy had managed to grab a ledge about fifteen feet below the top of the chasm. He was holding on with one hand, gripping Annabeth’s wrist with the other, but the pull on her leg was much too strong.
No escape, said a voice in the darkness below. I go to Tartarus, and you will come too.
Annabeth wasn’t sure if she actually heard Arachne’s voice or if it was just in her mind.
The pit shook. Percy was the only thing keeping her from falling. He was barely holding on to a ledge the size of a bookshelf.
Nico leaned over the edge of the chasm, thrusting out his hand, but he was much too far away to help. Hazel was yelling for the others, but even if they heard her over all the chaos, they’d never make it in time.
Annabeth’s leg felt like it was pulling free of her body. Pain washed everything in red. The force of the Underworld tugged at her like dark gravity. She didn’t have the strength to fight. She knew she was too far down to be saved.
“Percy, let me go,” she croaked. “You can’t pull me up.”
His face was white with effort. She could see in his eyes that he knew it was hopeless.
“Never,” he said. He looked up at Nico, fifteen feet above. “The other side, Nico! We’ll see you there. Understand?”
Nico’s eyes widened. “But—”
“Lead them there!” Percy shouted. “Promise me!”
“I—I will.”
Below them, the voice laughed in the darkness. Sacrifices. Beautiful sacrifices to wake the goddess.
Percy tightened his grip on Annabeth’s wrist. His face was gaunt, scraped and bloody, his hair dusted with cobwebs, but when he locked eyes with her, she thought he had never looked more handsome.
“We’re staying together,” he promised. “You’re not getting away from me. Never again.”
Only then did she understand what would happen. A one-way trip. A very hard fall.
“As long as we’re together,” she said.
She heard Nico and Hazel still screaming for help. She saw the sunlight far, far above—maybe the last sunlight she would ever see.
Then Percy let go of his tiny ledge, and together, holding hands, he and Annabeth fell into the endless darkness.

The Mark of Athena - L Annabeth

She could feel the ambrosia she’d eaten earlier starting to repair her leg, but it still hurt so badly that the pain throbbed right up to her neck. All along the walls, small spiders scuttled in the darkness, as if awaiting their mistress’s orders. Thousands of them rustled behind the tapestries, making the woven scenes move like wind.
Annabeth sat on the crumbling floor and tried to preserve her strength. While Arachne wasn’t watching, she attempted to get some sort of signal on Daedalus’s laptop to contact her friends, but of course she had no luck. That left her nothing to do but watch in amazement and horror as Arachne worked, her eight legs moving with hypnotic speed, slowly unraveling the silk strands around the statue.
With its golden clothes and its luminous ivory face, the Athena Parthenos was even scarier than Arachne. It gazed down sternly as if to say, Bring me tasty snacks or else. Annabeth could imagine being
an Ancient Greek, walking into the Parthenon and seeing this massive goddess with her shield, spear, and python, her free hand holding out Nike, the winged spirit of victory. It would’ve been enough to put a kink in the chiton of any mortal.
More than that, the statue radiated power. As Athena was unwrapped, the air around her grew warmer. Her ivory skin glowed with life. All across the room, the smaller spiders became agitated and began retreating back into the hallway.
Annabeth guessed that Arachne’s webs had somehow masked and dampened the statue’s magic. Now that it was free, the Athena Parthenos filled the chamber with magical energy. Centuries of mortal prayers and burnt offerings had been made it its presence. It was infused with the power of Athena.
Arachne didn’t seem to notice. She kept muttering to herself, counting out yards of silk and calculating the number of strands her project would require. Whenever she hesitated, Annabeth called out encouragement and reminded her how wonderful her tapestries would look on Mount Olympus.
The statue grew so warm and bright that Annabeth could see more details of the shrine—the Roman masonry that had probably once been gleaming white, the dark bones of Arachne’s past victims and meals hanging in the web, and the massive cables of silk that connected the floor to the ceiling. Annabeth now saw just how fragile the marble tiles were under her feet. They were covered in a fine layer of webbing, like mesh holding together a shattered mirror. Whenever the Athena Parthenos shifted even slightly, more cracks spread and widened along the floor. In some places, there were holes as big as manhole covers. Annabeth almost wished it were dark again. Even if her plan succeeded and she defeated Arachne, she wasn’t sure how she could make it out of this chamber alive.
“So much silk,” Arachne muttered. “I could make twenty tapestries—”
“Keep going!” Annabeth called up. “You’re doing a wonderful job.”
The spider kept working. After what seemed like forever, a mountain of glistening silk was piled at the feet of the statue. The walls of the chamber were still covered in webs. The support cables holding the room together hadn’t been disturbed. But the Athena Parthenos was free.
Please wake up, Annabeth begged the statue. Mother, help me.
Nothing happened, but the cracks seemed to be spreading across the floor more rapidly. According to Arachne, the malicious thoughts of monsters had eaten away at the shrine’s foundations for centuries. If that was true, now that it was free the Athena Parthenos might be attracting even more attention from the monsters in Tartarus.
“The design,” Annabeth said. “You should hurry.”
She lifted the computer screen for Arachne to see, but the spider snapped, “I’ve memorized it, child. I have an artist’s eye for detail.”
“Of course you do. But we should hurry.”
“Well…so we can introduce your work to the world!”
“Hmm. Very well.”
Arachne began to weave. It was slow work, turning silk strands into long strips of cloth. The chamber rumbled. The cracks at Annabeth’s feet became wider.
If Arachne noticed, she didn’t seem to care. Annabeth considered trying to push the spider into the pit somehow, but she dismissed the idea. There wasn’t a big enough hole, and besides, if the floor gave way, Arachne could probably hang from her silk and escape, while Annabeth and the ancient statue would tumble into Tartarus.
Slowly, Arachne finished the long strips of silk and braided them together. Her skill was flawless. Annabeth couldn’t help being impressed. She felt another flicker of doubt about her own mother. What if Arachne was a better weaver than Athena?
But Arachne’s skill wasn’t the point. She had been punished for being prideful and rude. No matter how amazing you were, you couldn’t go around insulting the gods. The Olympians were a
reminder that there was always someone better than you, so you shouldn’t get a big head. Still…being turned into a monstrous immortal spider seemed like a pretty harsh punishment for bragging.
Arachne worked more quickly, bringing the strands together. Soon, the structure was done. At the feet of the statue lay a braided cylinder of silk strips, five feet in diameter and ten feet long. The surface glistened like abalone shell, but it didn’t seem beautiful to Annabeth. It was just functional: a trap. It would only be beautiful if it worked.
Arachne turned to her with a hungry smile. “Done! Now, my reward! Prove to me that you can deliver on your promises.”
Annabeth studied the trap. She frowned and walked around it, inspecting the weaving from every angle. Then, careful of her bad ankle, she got down on hands and knees and crawled inside. She’d done the measurements in her head. If she’d gotten them wrong, her plan was doomed. But she slipped through the silken tunnel without touching the sides. The webbing was sticky, but not impossibly so. She crawled out the other end and shook her head.
“There’s a flaw,” she said.
“What?!” Arachne cried. “Impossible! I followed your instructions—”
“Inside,” Annabeth said. “Crawl in and see for yourself. It’s right in the middle—a flaw in the weaving.”
Arachne foamed at the mouth. Annabeth was afraid she’d pushed too hard, and the spider would snap her up. She’d be just another set of bones in the cobwebs.
Instead, Arachne stamped her eight legs petulantly. “I do not make mistakes.”
“Oh, it’s small,” Annabeth said. “You can probably fix it. But I don’t want to show the gods anything but your best work. Look, go inside and check. If you can fix it, then we’ll show it to the Olympians. You’ll be the most famous artist of all time. They’ll probably fire the Nine Muses and hire you to oversee all the arts. The goddess Arachne…yes, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“The goddess…” Arachne’s breathing turned shallow. “Yes, yes. I will fix this flaw.”
She poked her head into the tunnel. “Where is it?”
“Right in the middle,” Annabeth urged. “Go ahead. It might be a bit snug for you.”
“I’m fine!” she snapped, and wriggled in.
As Annabeth had hoped, the spider’s abdomen fit, but only barely. As she pushed her way in, the braided strips of silk expanded to accommodate her. Arachne got all the way up to her spinnerets.
“I see no flaw!” she announced.
“Really?” Annabeth asked. “Well, that’s odd. Come out and I’ll take another look.”
Moment of truth. Arachne wriggled, trying to back up. The woven tunnel contracted around her and held her fast. She tried to wriggle forward, but the trap was already stuck to her abdomen. She couldn’t get through that way either. Annabeth had been afraid the spider’s barbed legs might puncture the silk, but Arachne’s legs were pressed so tightly against her body she could barely move them.
“What—what is this?” she called. “I am stuck!”
“Ah,” Annabeth said. “I forgot to tell you. This piece of art is called Chinese Handcuffs. At least, it’s a larger variation on that idea. I call it Chinese Spidercuffs.”
“Treachery!” Arachne thrashed and rolled and squirmed, but the trap held her tight.
“It was a matter of survival,” Annabeth corrected. “You were going to kill me either way, whether I helped you or not, yes?”
“Well, of course! You’re a child of Athena.” The trap went still. “I mean…no, of course not! I respect my promises.”
“Uh-huh.” Annabeth stepped back as the braided cylinder began to thrash again. “Normally these traps are made from woven bamboo, but spider silk is even better. It will hold you fast, and it’s much too strong to break—even for you.”
“Gahhhh!” Arachne rolled and wriggled, but Annabeth moved out of the way. Even with her broken ankle, she could manage to avoid a giant silk finger trap.
“I will destroy you!” Arachne promised. “I mean…no, I’ll be very nice to you if you let me out.”
“I’d save my energy if I were you.” Annabeth took a deep breath, relaxing for the first time in hours. “I’m going to call my friends.”
“You—you’re going to call them about my artwork?” Arachne asked hopefully.
Annabeth scanned the room. There had to be a way to send an Iris-message to the Argo II. She had some water left in her bottle, but how to create enough light and mist to make a rainbow in a dark cavern?
Arachne began to roll around again. “You’re calling your friends to kill me!” she shrieked. “I will not die! Not like this!”
“Calm down,” Annabeth said. “We’ll let you live. We just want the statue.”
“The statue?”
“Yes.” Annabeth should’ve left it at that, but her fear was turning to anger and resentment. “The artwork that I’ll display most prominently on Mount Olympus? It won’t be yours. The Athena Parthenos belongs there—right in the central park of the gods.”
“No! No, that’s horrible!”
“Oh, it won’t happen right away,” Annabeth said. “First we’ll take the statue with us to Greece. A prophecy told us it has the power to help defeat the giants. After that…well, we can’t simply restore it to the Parthenon. That would raise too many questions. It’ll be safer in Mount Olympus. It will unite
the children of Athena and bring peace to the Romans and Greeks. Thanks for keeping it safe all these centuries. You’ve done Athena a great service.”
Arachne screamed and flailed. A strand of silk shot from the monster’s spinnerets and attached itself to a tapestry on the far wall. Arachne contracted her abdomen and blindly ripped away the weaving. She continued to roll, shooting silk randomly, pulling over braziers of magic fire and ripping tiles out of the floor. The chamber shook. Tapestries began to burn.
“Stop that!” Annabeth tried to hobble out of the way of the spider’s silk. “You’ll bring down the whole cavern and kill us both!”
“Better than seeing you win!” Arachne cried. “My children! Help me!”
Oh, great. Annabeth had hoped the statue’s magic aura would keep away the little spiders, but Arachne continued shrieking, imploring them to help. Annabeth considered killing the spider woman to shut her up. It would be easy to use her knife now. But she hesitated to kill any monster when it was so helpless, even Arachne. Besides, if she stabbed through the braided silk, the trap might unravel. It was possible Arachne could break free before Annabeth could finish her off.
All these thoughts came too late. Spiders began swarming into the chamber. The statue of Athena glowed brighter. The spiders clearly didn’t want to approach, but they edged forward as if gathering their courage. Their mother was screaming for help. Eventually they would pour in, overwhelming Annabeth.
“Arachne, stop it!” she yelled. “I’ll—”
Somehow Arachne twisted in her prison, pointing her abdomen toward the sound of Annabeth’s voice. A strand of silk hit her in the chest like a heavyweight’s glove.
Annabeth fell, her leg flaring with pain. She slashed wildly at the webbing with her dagger as Arachne pulled her toward her snapping spinnerets.
Annabeth managed to cut the strand and crawl away, but the little spiders were closing around her.
She realized her best efforts had not been enough. She wouldn’t make it out of here. Arachne’s children would kill her at the feet of her mother’s statue.
Percy, she thought, I’m sorry.
At that moment, the chamber groaned, and the cavern ceiling exploded in a blast of fiery light.

The Mark of Athena - XLIX Annabeth

She’d been assaulted by chauvinist ghosts. She’d broken her ankle. She’d been chased across a chasm by an army of spiders. Now, in severe pain, with her ankle wrapped in boards and Bubble Wrap, and carrying no weapon except her dagger, she faced Arachne—a monstrous half-spider who wanted to kill her and make a commemorative tapestry about it.
In the last few hours, Annabeth had shivered, sweated, whimpered, and blinked back so many tears that her body simply gave up on being scared. Her mind said something like, Okay, sorry. I can’t be any more terrified than I already am.
So instead, Annabeth started to think.
The monstrous creature picked her way down from the top of the web-covered statue. She moved from strand to strand, hissing with pleasure, her four eyes glittering in the dark. Either she was not in a hurry, or she was slow.
Annabeth hoped she was slow.
Not that it mattered. Annabeth was in no condition to run, and she didn’t like her chances in combat. Arachne probably weighed several hundred pounds. Those barbed legs were perfect for capturing and killing prey. Besides, Arachne probably had other horrible powers—a poisonous bite, or web-slinging abilities like an Ancient Greek Spider-Man.
No. Combat was not the answer.
That left trickery and brains.
In the old legends, Arachne had gotten into trouble because of pride. She’d bragged about her tapestries being better than Athena’s, which had led to Mount Olympus’s first reality TV punishment program: So You Think You Can Weave Better Than a Goddess? Arachne had lost in a big way.
Annabeth knew something about being prideful. It was her fatal flaw as well. She often had to remind herself that she couldn’t do everything alone. She wasn’t always the best person for every job. Sometimes she got tunnel vision and forgot about what other people needed, even Percy. And she could get easily distracted talking about her favorite projects.
But could she use that weakness against the spider? Maybe if she stalled for time…though she wasn’t sure how stalling would help. Her friends wouldn’t be able to reach her, even if they knew where to go. The cavalry would not be coming. Still, stalling was better than dying.
She tried to keep her expression calm, which wasn’t easy with a broken ankle. She limped toward the nearest tapestry—a cityscape of Ancient Rome.
“Marvelous,” she said. “Tell me about this tapestry.”
Arachne’s lips curled over her mandibles. “Why do you care? You’re about to die.”
“Well, yes,” Annabeth said. “But the way you captured the light is amazing. Did you use real golden thread for the sunbeams?”
The weaving truly was stunning. Annabeth didn’t have to pretend to be impressed.
Arachne allowed herself a smug smile. “No, child. Not gold. I blended the colors, contrasting bright yellow with darker hues. That’s what gives it a three-dimensional effect.”
“Beautiful.” Annabeth’s mind split into two different levels: one carrying on the conversation, the other madly grasping for a scheme to survive. Nothing came to her. Arachne had been beaten only once—by Athena herself, and that had taken godly magic and incredible skill in a weaving contest.
“So…” she said. “Did you see this scene yourself?”
Arachne hissed, her mouth foaming in a not-very-attractive way. “You are trying to delay your death. It won’t work.”
“No, no,” Annabeth insisted. “It just seems a shame that these beautiful tapestries can’t be seen by everyone. They belong in a museum, or…”
“Or what?” Arachne asked.
A crazy idea sprang fully formed from Annabeth’s mind, like her mom jumping out of Zeus’s noggin. But could she make it work?
“Nothing.” She sighed wistfully. “It’s a silly thought. Too bad.”
Arachne scuttled down the statue until she was perched atop the goddess’s shield. Even from that distance, Annabeth could smell the spider’s stink, like an entire bakery full of pastries left to go bad for a month.
“What?” the spider pressed. “What silly thought?”
Annabeth had to force herself not to back away. Broken ankle or no, every nerve in her body pulsed with fear, telling her to get away from the huge spider hovering over her.
“Oh…it’s just that I was put in charge of redesigning Mount Olympus,” she said. “You know, after the Titan War. I’ve completed most of the work, but we need a lot of quality public art. The throne room of the gods, for instance…I was thinking your work would be perfect to display there. The Olympians could finally see how talented you are. As I said, it was a silly thought.”
Arachne’s hairy abdomen quivered. Her four eyes glimmered as if she had a separate thought behind each and was trying to weave them into a coherent web.
“You’re redesigning Mount Olympus,” she said. “My work…in the throne room.”
“Well, other places too,” Annabeth said. “The main pavilion could use several of these. That one with the Greek landscape—the Nine Muses would love that. And I’m sure the other gods would be fighting over your work as well. They’d compete to have your tapestries in their palaces. I guess, aside from Athena, none of the gods has ever seen what you can do?”
Arachne snapped her mandibles. “Hardly. In the old days, Athena tore up all my best work. My tapestries depicted the gods in rather unflattering ways, you see. Your mother didn’t appreciate that.”
“Rather hypocritical,” Annabeth said, “since the gods make fun of each other all the time. I think the trick would be to pit one god against another. Ares, for instance, would love a tapestry making fun of my mother. He’s always resented Athena.”
Arachne’s head tilted at an unnatural angle. “You would work against your own mother?”
“I’m just telling you what Ares would like,” Annabeth said. “And Zeus would love something that made fun of Poseidon. Oh, I’m sure if the Olympians saw your work, they’d realize how amazing you are, and I’d have to broker a bidding war. As for working against my mother, why shouldn’t I? She sent me here to die, didn’t she? The last time I saw her in New York, she basically disowned me.”
Annabeth told her the story. She shared her bitterness and sorrow, and it must have sounded genuine. The spider did not pounce.
“This is Athena’s nature,” Arachne hissed. “She casts aside even her own daughter. The goddess would never allow my tapestries to be shown in the palaces of the gods. She was always jealous of me.”
“But imagine if you could get your revenge at long last.”
“By killing you!”
“I suppose.” Annabeth scratched her head. “Or…by letting me be your agent. I could get your work into Mount Olympus. I could arrange an exhibition for the other gods. By the time my mother found out, it would be too late. The Olympians would finally see that your work is better.”
“Then you admit it!” Arachne cried. “A daughter of Athena admits I am better! Oh, this is sweet to my ears.”
“But a lot of good it does you,” Annabeth pointed out. “If I die down here, you go on living in the dark. Gaea destroys the gods, and they never realize you were the better weaver.”
The spider hissed.
Annabeth was afraid her mother might suddenly appear and curse her with some terrible affliction. The first lesson every child of Athena learned: Mom was the best at everything, and you should never, ever suggest otherwise.
But nothing bad happened. Maybe Athena understood that Annabeth was only saying these things to save her life. Or maybe Athena was in such in bad shape, split between her Greek and Roman personalities, that she wasn’t even paying attention.
“This will not do,” Arachne grumbled. “I cannot allow it.”
“Well…” Annabeth shifted, trying to keep her weight off her throbbing ankle. A new crack appeared in the floor, and she hobbled back.
“Careful!” Arachne snapped. “The foundations of this shrine have been eaten away over the centuries!”
Annabeth’s heartbeat faltered. “Eaten away?”
“You have no idea how much hatred boils beneath us,” the spider said. “The spiteful thoughts of so many monsters trying to reach the Athena Parthenos and destroy it. My webbing is the only thing holding the room together, girl! One false step, and you’ll fall all the way to Tartarus—and believe me, unlike the Doors of Death, this would be a one-way trip, a very hard fall! I will not have you dying before you tell me your plan for my artwork.”
Annabeth’s mouth tasted like rust. All the way to Tartarus? She tried to stay focused, but it wasn’t easy as she listened to the floor creak and crack, spilling rubble into the void below.
“Right, the plan,” Annabeth said. “Um…as I said, I’d love to take your tapestries to Olympus and hang them everywhere. You could rub your craftsmanship in Athena’s nose for all eternity. But the only way I could do that…No. It’s too difficult. You might as well go ahead and kill me.”
“No!” Arachne cried. “That is unacceptable. It no longer brings me any pleasure to contemplate. I must have my work on Mount Olympus! What must I do?”
Annabeth shook her head. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. Just push me into Tartarus or something.”
“I refuse!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Kill me.”
“I do not take orders from you! Tell me what I must do! Or…or—”
“Or you’ll kill me?”
“Yes! No!” The spider pressed her front legs against her head. “I must show my work on Mount Olympus.”
Annabeth tried to contain her excitement. Her plan might actually work…but she still had to convince Arachne to do something impossible. She remembered some good advice Frank Zhang had given her: Keep it simple.
“I suppose I could pull a few strings,” she conceded.
“I excel at pulling strings!” said Arachne. “I’m a spider!”
“Yes, but to get your work shown on Mount Olympus, we’d need a proper audition. I’d have to pitch the idea, submit a proposal, put together a portfolio. Hmm…do you have any headshots?”
“Glossy black-and-white…Oh, never mind. The audition piece is the most important thing. These tapestries are excellent. But the gods would require something really special—something that shows off your talent in the extreme.”
Arachne snarled. “Are you suggesting that these are not my best work? Are you challenging me to a contest?”
“Oh, no!” Annabeth laughed. “Against me? Gosh, no. You are much too good. It would only be a contest against yourself, to see if you really have what it takes to show your work on Mount Olympus.”
“Of course I do!”
“Well, I certainly think so. But the audition, you know…it’s a formality. I’m afraid it would be very difficult. Are you sure you don’t just want to kill me?”
“Stop saying that!” Arachne screeched. “What must I make?”
“I’ll show you.” Annabeth unslung her backpack. She took out Daedalus’s laptop and opened it. The delta logo glowed in the dark.
“What is that?” Arachne asked. “Some sort of loom?”
“In a way,” Annabeth said. “It’s for weaving ideas. It holds a diagram of the artwork you would build.”
Her fingers trembled on the keyboard. Arachne lowered herself to peer directly over Annabeth’s shoulder. Annabeth couldn’t help thinking how easily those needlelike teeth could sink into her neck.
She opened her 3-D imaging program. Her last design was still up—the key to Annabeth’s plan, inspired by the most unlikely muse ever: Frank Zhang.
Annabeth did some quick calculations. She increased the dimensions of the model, then showed Arachne how it could be created—strands of material woven into strips, then braided into a long cylinder.
The golden light from the screen illuminated the spider’s face. “You want me to make that? But this is nothing! So small and simple!”
“The actual size would be much bigger,” Annabeth cautioned. “You see these measurements? Naturally it must be large enough to impress the gods. It may look simple, but the structure has incredible properties. Your spider silk would be the perfect material—soft and flexible, yet hard as steel.”
“I see…” Arachne frowned. “But this isn’t even a tapestry.”
“That’s why it’s a challenge. It’s outside your comfort zone. A piece like this—an abstract sculpture—is what the gods are looking for. It would stand in the entry hall of the Olympian throne room for every visitor to see. You would be famous forever!”
Arachne made a discontented hum in her throat. Annabeth could tell she wasn’t going for the idea. Her hands started to feel cold and sweaty.
“This would take a great deal of web,” the spider complained. “More than I could make in a year.”
Annabeth had been hoping for that. She’d calculated the mass and size accordingly. “You’d need to unravel the statue,” she said. “Reuse the silk.”
Arachne seemed about to object, but Annabeth waved at the Athena Parthenos like it was nothing. “What’s more important—covering that old statue or proving your artwork is the best? Of course, you’d have to be incredibly careful. You’d need to leave enough webbing to hold the room together. And if you think it’s too difficult—”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Okay. It’s just…Athena said that creating this braided structure would be impossible for any weaver, even her. So if you don’t think you can—”
“Athena said that?”
“Well, yeah.”
“Ridiculous! I can do it!”
“Great! But you’d need to start right away, before the Olympians choose another artist for their installations.”
Arachne growled. “If you are tricking me, girl—”
“You’ll have me right here as a hostage,” Annabeth reminded her. “It’s not like I can go anywhere. Once this sculpture is complete, you’ll agree that it’s the most amazing piece you’ve ever done. If not, I will gladly die.”
Arachne hesitated. Her barbed legs were so close, she could’ve impaled Annabeth with a quick swipe.
“Fine,” the spider said. “One last challenge—against myself!”
Arachne climbed her web and began to unravel the Athena Parthenos.

The Mark of Athena - XLVIII Percy

PERCY HAD FOUGHT MANY BATTLES. He’d even fought in a couple of arenas, but nothing like this. In the huge Colosseum, with thousands of cheering ghosts, the god Bacchus staring down at him, and the two twelve-foot giants looming over him, Percy felt as small and insignificant as a bug. He also felt very angry.
Fighting giants was one thing. Bacchus making it into a game was something else.
Percy remembered what Luke Castellan had told him years ago, when Percy had come back from his very first quest: Didn’t you realize how useless it all is? All the heroics—being pawns of the Olympians?
Percy was almost the same age now as Luke had been then. He could understand how Luke became so spiteful. In the past five years, Percy had been a pawn too many times. The Olympians seemed to take turns using him for their schemes.
Maybe the gods were better than the Titans, or the giants, or Gaea, but that didn’t make them good or wise. It didn’t make Percy like this stupid arena battle.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have much choice. If he was going to save his friends, he had to beat these giants. He had to survive and find Annabeth.
Ephialtes and Otis made his decision easier by attacking. Together, the giants picked up a fake mountain as big as Percy’s New York apartment and hurled it at the demigods.
Percy and Jason bolted. They dove together into the nearest trench and the mountain shattered above them, spraying them with plaster shrapnel. It wasn’t deadly, but it stung like crazy.
The crowd jeered and shouted for blood. “Fight! Fight!”
“I’ll take Otis again?” Jason called over the noise. “Or do you want him this time?”
Percy tried to think. Dividing was the natural course—fighting the giants one-on-one, but that hadn’t worked so well last time. It dawned on him that they needed a different strategy.
This whole trip, Percy had felt responsible for leading and protecting his friends. He was sure Jason felt the same way. They’d worked in small groups, hoping that would be safer. They’d fought as individuals, each demigod doing what he or she did best. But Hera had made them a team of seven for a reason. The few times Percy and Jason had worked together—summoning the storm at Fort Sumter, helping the Argo II escape the Pillars of Hercules, even filling the nymphaeum—Percy had felt more confident, better able to figure out problems, as if he’d been a Cyclops his whole life and suddenly woke up with two eyes.
“We attack together,” he said. “Otis first, because he’s weaker. Take him out quickly and move to Ephialtes. Bronze and gold together—maybe that’ll keep them from re-forming a little longer.”
Jason smiled dryly, like he’d just found out he would die in an embarrassing way.
“Why not?” he agreed. “But Ephialtes isn’t going to stand there and wait while we kill his brother. Unless—”
“Good wind today,” Percy offered. “And there’re some water pipes running under the arena.”
Jason understood immediately. He laughed, and Percy felt a spark of friendship. This guy thought the same way he did about a lot of things.
“On three?” Jason said.
“Why wait?”
They charged out of the trench. As Percy suspected, the twins had lifted another plaster mountain and were waiting for a clear shot. The giants raised it above their heads, preparing to throw, and Percy caused a water pipe to burst at their feet, shaking the floor. Jason sent a blast of wind against Ephialtes’s chest. The purple-haired giant toppled backward and Otis lost his grip on the mountain, which promptly collapsed on top of his brother. Only Ephialtes’s snake feet stuck out, darting their heads around, as if wondering where the rest of their body had gone.
The crowd roared with approval, but Percy suspected Ephialtes was only stunned. They had a few seconds at best.
“Hey, Otis!” he shouted. “The Nutcracker bites!”
“Ahhhhh!” Otis snatched up his spear and threw, but he was too angry to aim straight. Jason deflected it over Percy’s head and into the lake.
The demigods backed toward the water, shouting insults about ballet—which was kind of a challenge, as Percy didn’t know much about it.
Otis barreled toward them empty-handed, before apparently realizing that a) he was empty-handed, and b) charging toward a large body of water to fight a son of Poseidon was maybe not a good idea.
Too late, he tried to stop. The demigods rolled to either side, and Jason summoned the wind, using the giant’s own momentum to shove him into the water. As Otis struggled to rise, Percy and Jason attacked as one. They launched themselves at the giant and brought their blades down on Otis’s head.
The poor guy didn’t even have a chance to pirouette. He exploded into powder on the lake’s surface like a huge packet of drink mix.
Percy churned the lake into a whirlpool. Otis’s essence tried to re-form, but as his head appeared from the water, Jason called lightning and blasted him to dust again.
So far so good, but they couldn’t keep Otis down forever. Percy was already tired from his fight underground. His gut still ached from getting smacked with a spear shaft. He could feel his strength waning, and they still had another giant to deal with.
As if on cue, the plaster mountain exploded behind them. Ephialtes rose, bellowing with anger.
Percy and Jason waited as he lumbered toward them, his spear in hand. Apparently, getting flattened under a plaster mountain had only energized him. His eyes danced with murderous light. The afternoon sun glinted in his coin-braided hair. Even his snake feet looked angry, baring their fangs and hissing.
Jason called down another lightning strike, but Ephialtes caught it on his spear and deflected the blast, melting a life-size plastic cow. He slammed a stone column out of his way like a stack of building blocks.
Percy tried to keep the lake churning. He didn’t want Otis rising to join this fight, but as Ephialtes closed the last few feet, Percy had to switch focus.
Jason and he met the giant’s charge. They lunged around Ephialtes, stabbing and slashing in a blur of gold and bronze, but the giant parried every strike.
“I will not yield!” Ephialtes roared. “You may have ruined my spectacle, but Gaea will still destroy your world!”
Percy lashed out, slicing the giant’s spear in half. Ephialtes wasn’t even fazed. The giant swept low with the blunt end and knocked Percy off his feet. Percy landed hard on his sword arm, and Riptide clattered out of his grip.
Jason tried to take advantage. He stepped inside the giant’s guard and stabbed at his chest, but somehow Ephialtes parried the strike. He sliced the tip of his spear down Jason’s chest, ripping his purple shirt into a vest. Jason stumbled, looking at the thin line of blood down his sternum. Ephialtes kicked him backward.
Up in the emperor’s box, Piper cried out, but her voice was drowned in the roar of the crowd. Bacchus looked on with an amused smile, munching from a bag of Doritos.
Ephialtes towered over Percy and Jason, both halves of his broken spear poised over their heads. Percy’s sword arm was numb. Jason’s gladius had skittered across the arena floor. Their plan had failed.
Percy glanced up at Bacchus, deciding what final curse he would hurl at the useless wine god, when he saw a shape in the sky above the Colosseum—a large dark oval descending rapidly.
From the lake, Otis yelled, trying to warn his brother, but his half-dissolved face could only manage: “Uh-umh-moooo!”
“Don’t worry, brother!” Ephialtes said, his eyes still fixed on the demigods. “I will make them suffer!”
The Argo II turned in the sky, presenting its port side, and green fire blazed from the ballista.
“Actually,” Percy said. “Look behind you.”
He and Jason rolled away as Ephialtes turned and bellowed in disbelief.
Percy dropped into a trench just as the explosion rocked the Colosseum.
When he climbed out again, the Argo II was coming in for a landing. Jason poked his head out from behind his improvised bomb shelter of a plastic horse. Ephialtes lay charred and groaning on the arena floor, the sand around him seared into a halo of glass by the heat of the Greek fire. Otis was floundering in the lake, trying to re-form, but from the arms down he looked like a puddle of burnt oatmeal.
Percy staggered over to Jason and clapped him on the shoulder. The ghostly crowd gave them a standing ovation as the Argo II extended its landing gear and settled on the arena floor. Leo stood at the helm, Hazel and Frank grinning at his side. Coach Hedge danced around the firing platform, pumping his fist in the air and yelling, “That’s what I’m talking about!”
Percy turned to the emperor’s box. “Well?” he yelled at Bacchus. “Was that entertaining enough for you, you wine-breathed little—”
“No need for that.” Suddenly the god was standing right next to him in the arena. He brushed Dorito dust off his purple robes. “I have decided you are worthy partners for this combat.”
“Partners?” Jason growled. “You did nothing!”
Bacchus walked to the edge of the lake. The water instantly drained, leaving an Otis-headed pile of mush. Bacchus picked his way to the bottom and looked up at the crowd. He raised his thyrsus.
The crowd jeered and hollered and pointed their thumbs down. Percy had never been sure whether that meant live or die. He’d heard it both ways.
Bacchus chose the more entertaining option. He smacked Otis’s head with his pinecone staff, and the giant pile of Otismeal disintegrated completely.
The crowd went wild. Bacchus climbed out of the lake and strutted over to Ephialtes, who was still lying spread-eagled, overcooked and smoking.
Again, Bacchus raised his thyrsus.
“DO IT!” the crowd roared.
“DON’T DO IT!” Ephialtes wailed.
Bacchus tapped the giant on the nose, and Ephialtes crumbled to ashes.
The ghosts cheered and threw spectral confetti as Bacchus strode around the stadium with his arms raised triumphantly, exulting in the worship. He grinned at the demigods. “That, my friends, is a show! And of course I did something. I killed two giants!”
As Percy’s friends disembarked from the ship, the crowd of ghosts shimmered and disappeared. Piper and Nico struggled down from the emperor’s box as the Colosseum’s magical renovations began to turn into mist. The arena floor remained solid, but otherwise the stadium looked as if it hadn’t hosted a good giant killing for eons.
“Well,” Bacchus said. “That was fun. You have my permission to continue your voyage.”
“Your permission?” Percy snarled.
“Yes.” Bacchus raised an eyebrow. “Although your voyage may be a little harder than you expect, son of Neptune.”
“Poseidon,” Percy corrected him automatically. “What do you mean about my voyage?”
“You might try the parking lot behind the Emmanuel Building,” Bacchus said. “Best place to break through. Now, good-bye, my friends. And, ah, good luck with that other little matter.”
The god vaporized in a cloud of mist that smelled faintly of grape juice. Jason ran to meet Piper and Nico.
Coach Hedge trotted up to Percy, with Hazel, Frank, and Leo close behind. “Was that Dionysus?” Hedge asked. “I love that guy!”
“You’re alive!” Percy said to the others. “The giants said you were captured. What happened?”
Leo shrugged. “Oh, just another brilliant plan by Leo Valdez. You’d be amazed what you can do with an Archimedes sphere, a girl who can sense stuff underground, and a weasel.”
“I was the weasel,” Frank said glumly.
“Basically,” Leo explained, “I activated a hydraulic screw with the Archimedes device—which is going to be awesome once I install it in the ship, by the way. Hazel sensed the easiest path to drill to the surface. We made a tunnel big enough for a weasel, and Frank climbed up with a simple transmitter that I slapped together. After that, it was just a matter of hacking into Coach Hedge’s favorite satellite channels and telling him to bring the ship around to rescue us. After he got us, finding you was easy, thanks to that godly light show at the Colosseum.”
Percy understood about ten percent of Leo’s story, but he decided it was enough since he had a more pressing question. “Where’s Annabeth?”
Leo winced. “Yeah, about that…she’s still in trouble, we think. Hurt, broken leg, maybe—at least according to this vision Gaea shown us. Rescuing her is our next stop.”
Two seconds before, Percy had been ready to collapse. Now another surge of adrenaline coursed through his body. He wanted to strangle Leo and demand why the Argo II hadn’t sailed off to rescue Annabeth first, but he thought that might sound a little ungrateful.
“Tell me about the vision,” he said. “Tell me everything.”
The floor shook. The wooden planks began to disappear, spilling sand into the pits of the hypogeum below.
“Let’s talk on board,” Hazel suggested. “We’d better take off while we still can.”
They sailed out of the Colosseum and veered south over the rooftops of Rome.
All around the Piazza del Colosseo, traffic had come to a standstill. A crowd of mortals had gathered, probably wondering about the strange lights and sounds that had come from the ruins. As far as Percy could see, none of the giants’ spectacular plans for destruction had come off successfully. The city looked the same as before. No one seemed to notice the huge Greek trireme rising into the sky.
The demigods gathered around the helm. Jason bandaged Piper’s sprained shoulder while Hazel sat at the stern, feeding Nico ambrosia. The son of Hades could barely lift his head. His voice was so quiet, Hazel had to lean in whenever he spoke.
Frank and Leo recounted what had happened in the room with the Archimedes spheres, and the visions Gaea had shown them in the bronze mirror. They quickly decided that their best lead for finding Annabeth was the cryptic advice Bacchus had provided: the Emmanuel Building, whatever that was. Frank started typing at the helm’s computer while Leo tapped furiously at his controls, muttering, “Emmanuel Building. Emmanuel Building.” Coach Hedge tried to help by wrestling with an upside-down street map of Rome.
Percy knelt next to Jason and Piper. “How’s the shoulder?”
Piper smiled. “It’ll heal. Both of you did great.”
Jason elbowed Percy. “Not a bad team, you and me.”
“Better than jousting in a Kansas cornfield,” Percy agreed.
“There it is!” Leo cried, pointing to his monitor. “Frank, you’re amazing! I’m setting course.”
Frank hunched his shoulders. “I just read the name off the screen. Some Chinese tourist marked it on Google Maps.”
Leo grinned at the others. “He reads Chinese.”
“Just a tiny bit,” Frank said.
“How cool is that?”
“Guys,” Hazel broke in. “I hate to interrupt your admiration session, but you should hear this.”
She helped Nico to his feet. He’d always been pale, but now his skin looked like powdered milk. His dark sunken eyes reminded Percy of photos he’d seen of liberated prisoners-of-war, which Percy guessed Nico basically was.
“Thank you,” Nico rasped. His eyes darted nervously around the group. “I’d given up hope.”
The past week or so, Percy had imagined a lot of scathing things he might say to Nico when they met again, but the guy looked so frail and sad, Percy couldn’t muster much anger.
“You knew about the two camps all along,” Percy said. “You could have told me who I was the first day I arrived at Camp Jupiter, but you didn’t.”
Nico slumped against the helm. “Percy, I’m sorry. I discovered Camp Jupiter last year. My dad led me there, though I wasn’t sure why. He told me the gods had kept the camps separate for centuries and that I couldn’t tell anyone. The time wasn’t right. But he said it would be important for me to know…” He doubled over in a fit of coughing.
Hazel held his shoulders until he could stand again.
“I—I thought Dad meant because of Hazel,” Nico continued. “I’d need a safe place to take her. But now…I think he wanted me to know about both camps so I’d understand how important your quest was, and so I’d search for the Doors of Death.”
The air turned electric—literally, as Jason started throwing off sparks.
“Did you find the doors?” Percy asked.
Nico nodded. “I was a fool. I thought I could go anywhere in the Underworld, but I walked right into Gaea’s trap. I might as well have tried running from a black hole.”
“Um…” Frank chewed his lip. “What kind of black hole are you talking about?”
Nico started to speak, but whatever he needed to say must have been too terrifying. He turned to Hazel.
She put her hand on her brother’s arm. “Nico told me that the Doors of Death have two sides—one in the mortal world, one in the Underworld. The mortal side of the portal is in Greece. It’s heavily guarded by Gaea’s forces. That’s where they brought Nico back into the upper world. Then they transported him to Rome.”
Piper must’ve been nervous, because her cornucopia spit out a cheeseburger. “Where exactly in Greece is this doorway?”
Nico took a rattling breath. “The House of Hades. It’s an underground temple in Epirus. I can mark it on a map, but—but the mortal side of the portal isn’t the problem. In the Underworld, the Doors of Death are in…in…”
A cold pair of hands did the itsy-bitsy spider down Percy’s back.
A black hole. An inescapable part of the Underworld where even Nico di Angelo couldn’t go. Why hadn’t Percy thought of this before? He’d been to the very edge of that place. He still had nightmares about it.
“Tartarus,” he guessed. “The deepest part of the Underworld.”
Nico nodded. “They pulled me into the pit, Percy. The things I saw down there…” His voice broke.
Hazel pursed her lips. “No mortal has ever been to Tartarus,” she explained. “At least, no one has ever gone in and returned alive. It’s the maximum-security prison of Hades, where the old Titans and the other enemies of the gods are bound. It’s where all monsters go when they die on the earth. It’s…well, no one knows exactly what it’s like.”
Her eyes drifted to her brother. The rest of her thought didn’t need to be spoken: No one except Nico.
Hazel handed him his black sword.
Nico leaned on it like it was an old man’s cane. “Now I understand why Hades hasn’t been able to close the doors,” he said. “Even the gods don’t go into Tartarus. Even the god of death, Thanatos himself, wouldn’t go near that place.”
Leo glanced over from the wheel. “So let me guess. We’ll have to go there.”
Nico shook his head. “It’s impossible. I’m the son of Hades, and even I barely survived. Gaea’s forces overwhelmed me instantly. They’re so powerful down there…no demigod would stand a chance. I almost went insane.”
Nico’s eyes looked like shattered glass. Percy wondered sadly if something inside him had broken permanently.
“Then we’ll sail for Epirus,” Percy said. “We’ll just close the gates on this side.”
“I wish it were that easy,” Nico said. “The doors would have to be controlled on both sides to be closed. It’s like a double seal. Maybe, just maybe, all seven of you working together could defeat Gaea’s forces on the mortal side, at the House of Hades. But unless you had a team fighting simultaneously on the Tartarus side, a team powerful enough to defeat a legion of monsters in their home territory—”
“There has to be a way,” Jason said.
Nobody volunteered any brilliant ideas.
Percy thought his stomach was sinking. Then he realized the entire ship was descending toward a big building like a palace.
Annabeth. Nico’s news was so horrible Percy had momentarily forgotten she was still in danger, which made him feel incredibly guilty.
“We’ll figure out the Tartarus problem later,” he said. “Is that the Emmanuel Building?”
Leo nodded. “Bacchus said something about the parking lot in back? Well, there it is. What now?”
Percy remembered his dream of the dark chamber, the evil buzzing voice of the monster called Her Ladyship. He remembered how shaken Annabeth had looked when she’d come back from Fort Sumter after her encounter with the spiders. Percy had begun to suspect what might be down in that shrine…literally, the mother of all spiders. If he was right, and Annabeth had been trapped down
there alone with that creature for hours, her leg broken…At this point, he didn’t care if her quest was supposed to be solo or not.
“We have to get her out,” he said.
“Well, yeah,” Leo agreed. “But, uh…”
He looked like he wanted to say, What if we’re too late?
Wisely, he changed tack. “There’s a parking lot in the way.”
Percy looked at Coach Hedge. “Bacchus said something about breaking through. Coach, you still have ammo for those ballistae?”
The satyr grinned like a wild goat. “I thought you’d never ask.”

The Mark of Athena - XLVII Percy

PERCY HAD NEVER THOUGHT OF MR. D as a calming influence, but suddenly everything got quiet. The machines ground to a halt. The wild animals stopped growling.
The two leopards paced over—still licking their lips from Piper’s pot roast—and butted their heads affectionately against the god’s legs. Mr. D scratched their ears.
“Really, Ephialtes,” he chided. “Killing demigods is one thing. But using leopards for your spectacle? That’s over the line.”
The giant made a squeaking sound. “This—this is impossible. D-D—”
“It’s Bacchus, actually, my old friend,” said the god. “And of course it’s possible. Someone told me there was a party going on.”
He looked the same as he had in Kansas, but Percy still couldn’t get over the differences between Bacchus and his old not-so-much-of-a-friend Mr. D.
Bacchus was meaner and leaner, with less of a potbelly. He had longer hair, more spring in his step, and a lot more anger in his eyes. He even managed to make a pinecone on a stick look intimidating.
Ephialtes’s spear quivered. “You—you gods are doomed! Be gone, in the name of Gaea!”
“Hmm.” Bacchus sounded unimpressed. He strolled through the ruined props, platforms, and special effects.
“Tacky.” He waved his hand at a painted wooden gladiator, then turned to a machine that looked like an oversized rolling pin studded with knives. “Cheap. Boring. And this…” He inspected the rocket-launching contraption, which was still smoking. “Tacky, cheap, and boring. Honestly, Ephialtes. You have no sense of style.”
“STYLE?” The giant’s face flushed. “I have mountains of style. I define style. I—I—”
“My brother oozes style,” Otis suggested.
“Thank you!” Ephialtes cried.
Bacchus stepped forward, and the giants stumbled back. “Have you two gotten shorter?” asked the god.
“Oh, that’s low,” Ephialtes growled. “I’m quite tall enough to destroy you, Bacchus! You gods, always hiding behind your mortal heroes, trusting the fate of Olympus to the likes of these.”
He sneered at Percy.
Jason hefted his sword. “Lord Bacchus, are we going to kill these giants or what?”
“Well, I certainly hope so,” Bacchus said. “Please, carry on.”
Percy stared at him. “Didn’t you come here to help?”
Bacchus shrugged. “Oh, I appreciated the sacrifice at sea. A whole ship full of Diet Coke. Very nice. Although I would’ve preferred Diet Pepsi.”
“And six million in gold and jewels,” Percy muttered.
“Yes,” Bacchus said, “although with demigod parties of five or more the gratuity is included, so that wasn’t necessary.”
“Never mind,” Bacchus said. “At any rate, you got my attention. I’m here. Now I need to see if you’re worthy of my help. Go ahead. Battle. If I’m impressed, I’ll jump in for the grand finale.”
“We speared one,” Percy said. “Dropped the roof on the other. What do you consider impressive?”
“Ah, a good question…” Bacchus tapped his thyrsus. Then he smiled in a way that made Percy think, Uh-oh. “Perhaps you need inspiration! The stage hasn’t been properly set. You call this a spectacle, Ephialtes? Let me show you how it’s done.”
The god dissolved into purple mist. Piper and Nico disappeared.
“Pipes!” Jason yelled. “Bacchus, where did you—?”
The entire floor rumbled and began to rise. The ceiling opened in a series of panels. Sunlight poured in. The air shimmered like a mirage, and Percy heard the roar of a crowd above him.
The hypogeum ascended through a forest of weathered stone columns, into the middle of a ruined coliseum.
Percy’s heart did a somersault. This wasn’t just any coliseum. It was the Colosseum. The giants’ special effects machines had gone into overtime, laying planks across ruined support beams so the arena had a proper floor again. The bleachers repaired themselves until they were gleaming white. A giant red-and-gold canopy extended overhead to provide shade from the afternoon sun. The emperor’s box was draped with silk, flanked by banners and golden eagles. The roar of applause came from thousands of shimmering purple ghosts, the Lares of Rome brought back for an encore performance.
Vents opened in the floor and sprayed sand across the arena. Huge props sprang up—garage-size mountains of plaster, stone columns, and (for some reason) life-size plastic barnyard animals. A small lake appeared to one side. Ditches crisscrossed the arena floor in case anyone was in the mood for trench warfare. Percy and Jason stood together facing the twin giants.
“This is a proper show!” boomed the voice of Bacchus. He sat in the emperor’s box wearing purple robes and golden laurels. At his left sat Nico and Piper, her shoulder being tended by a nymph in a nurse’s uniform. At Bacchus’s right crouched a satyr, offering up Doritos and grapes. The god raised a can of Diet Pepsi and the crowd went respectfully quiet.
Percy glared up at him. “You’re just going to sit there?”
“The demigod is right!” Ephialtes bellowed. “Fight us yourself, coward! Um, without the demigods.”
Bacchus smiled lazily. “Juno says she’s assembled a worthy crew of demigods. Show me. Entertain me, heroes of Olympus. Give me a reason to do more. Being a god has its privileges.”
He popped his soda can top, and the crowd cheered.

The Mark of Athena - XLVI Percy

THINGS WENT WRONG IMMEDIATELY.The giants vanished in twin puffs of smoke. They reappeared halfway across the room, each in a different spot. Percy sprinted toward Ephialtes, but slots in the floor opened under his feet, and metal walls shot up on either side, separating him from his friends.
The walls started closing in on him like the sides of a vise grip. Percy jumped up and grabbed the bottom of the hydra’s cage. He caught a brief glimpse of Piper leaping across a hopscotch pattern of fiery pits, making her way toward Nico, who was dazed and weaponless and being stalked by a pair of leopards.
Meanwhile Jason charged at Otis, who pulled his spear and heaved a great sigh, as if he would much rather dance Swan Lake than kill another demigod.
Percy registered all this in a split second, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. The hydra snapped at his hands. He swung and dropped, landing in a grove of painted plywood trees that sprang up from nowhere. The trees changed positions as he tried to run through them, so he slashed down the whole forest with Riptide.
“Wonderful!” Ephialtes cried. He stood at his control panel about sixty feet to Percy’s left. “We’ll consider this a dress rehearsal. Shall I unleash the hydra onto the Spanish Steps now?”
He pulled a lever, and Percy glanced behind him. The cage he had just been hanging from was now rising toward a hatch in the ceiling. In three seconds it would be gone. If Percy attacked the giant, the hydra would ravage the city.
Cursing, he threw Riptide like a boomerang. The sword wasn’t designed for that, but the Celestial bronze blade sliced through the chains suspending the hydra. The cage tumbled sideways. The door broke open, and the monster spilled out—right in front of Percy.
“Oh, you are a spoilsport, Jackson!” Ephialtes called. “Very well. Battle it here, if you must, but your death won’t be nearly as good without the cheering crowds.”
Percy stepped forward to confront the monster—then realized he’d just thrown his weapon away. A bit of bad planning on his part.
He rolled to one side as all eight hydra heads spit acid, turning the floor where he’d been standing into a steaming crater of melted stone. Percy really hated hydras. It was almost a good thing that he’d lost his sword, since his gut instinct would’ve been to slash at the heads, and a hydra simply grew two new ones for each one it lost.
The last time he’d faced a hydra, he’d been saved by a battleship with bronze cannons that blasted the monster to pieces. That strategy couldn’t help him now…or could it?
The hydra lashed out. Percy ducked behind a giant hamster wheel and scanned the room, looking for the boxes he’d seen in his dream. He remembered something about rocket launchers.
At the dais, Piper stood guard over Nico as the leopards advanced. She aimed her cornucopia and shot a pot roast over the cats’ heads. It must have smelled pretty good, because the leopards raced after it.
About eighty feet to Piper’s right, Jason battled Otis, sword against spear. Otis had lost his diamond tiara and looked angry about it. He probably could have impaled Jason several times, but the giant insisted on doing a pirouette with every attack, which slowed him down.
Meanwhile Ephialtes laughed as he pushed buttons on his control board, cranking the conveyor belts into high gear and opening random animal cages.
The hydra charged around the hamster wheel. Percy swung behind a column, grabbed a garbage bag full of Wonder bread, and threw it at the monster. The hydra spit acid, which was a mistake. The bag and wrappers dissolved in midair. The Wonder bread absorbed the acid like fire extinguisher foam and splattered against the hydra, covering it in a sticky, steaming layer of high-calorie poisonous goo.
As the monster reeled, shaking its heads and blinking Wonder acid out of its eyes, Percy looked around desperately. He didn’t see the rocket-launcher boxes, but tucked against the back wall was a strange contraption like an artist’s easel, fitted with rows of missile launchers. Percy spotted a bazooka, a grenade launcher, a giant Roman candle, and a dozen other wicked-looking weapons. They all seemed to be wired together, pointing in the same direction and connected to a single bronze lever on the side. At the top of the easel, spelled in carnations, were the words: HAPPY DESTRUCTION, ROME!
Percy bolted toward the device. The hydra hissed and charged after him.
“I know!” Ephialtes cried out happily. “We can start with explosions along the Via Labicana! We can’t keep our audience waiting forever.”
Percy scrambled behind the easel and turned it toward Ephialtes. He didn’t have Leo’s skill with machines, but he knew how to aim a weapon.
The hydra barreled toward him, blocking his view of the giant. Percy hoped this contraption would have enough firepower to take down two targets at once. He tugged at the lever. It didn’t budge.
All eight hydra heads loomed over him, ready to melt him into a pool of sludge. He tugged the lever again. This time the easel shook and the weapons began to hiss.
“Duck and cover!” Percy yelled, hoping his friends got the message.
Percy leaped to one side as the easel fired. The sound was like a fiesta in the middle of an exploding gunpowder factory. The hydra vaporized instantly. Unfortunately, the recoil knocked the easel sideways and sent more projectiles shooting all over the room. A chunk of ceiling collapsed and crushed a waterwheel. More cages snapped off their chains, unleashing two zebras and a pack of hyenas. A grenade exploded over Ephialtes’s head, but it only blasted him off his feet. The control board didn’t even look damaged.
Across the room, sandbags rained down around Piper and Nico. Piper tried to pull Nico to safety, but one of the bags caught her shoulder and knocked her down.
“Piper!” Jason cried. He ran toward her, completely forgetting about Otis, who aimed his spear at Jason’s back.
“Look out!” Percy yelled.
Jason had fast reflexes. As Otis threw, Jason rolled. The point sailed over him and Jason flicked his hand, summoning a gust of wind that changed the spear’s direction. It flew across the room and skewered Ephialtes through his side just as he was getting to his feet.
“Otis!” Ephialtes stumbled away from his control board, clutching the spear as he began to crumble into monster dust. “Will you please stop killing me!”
“Not my fault!”
Otis had barely finished speaking when Percy’s missile-launching contraption spit out one last sphere of Roman candle fire. The fiery pink ball of death (naturally it had to be pink) hit the ceiling above Otis and exploded in a beautiful shower of light. Colorful sparks pirouetted gracefully around the giant. Then a ten-foot section of roof collapsed and crushed him flat.
Jason ran to Piper’s side. She yelped when he touched her arm. Her shoulder looked unnaturally bent, but she muttered, “Fine. I’m fine.” Next to her, Nico sat up, looking around him in bewilderment as if just realizing he’d missed a battle.
Sadly, the giants weren’t finished. Ephialtes was already re-forming, his head and shoulders rising from the mound of dust. He tugged his arms free and glowered at Percy.
Across the room, the pile of rubble shifted, and Otis busted out. His head was slightly caved in. All the firecrackers in his hair had popped, and his braids were smoking. His leotard was in tatters, which was just about the only way it could’ve looked less attractive on him.
“Percy!” Jason shouted. “The controls!”
Percy unfroze. He found Riptide in his pocket again, uncapped his sword, and lunged for the switchboard. He slashed his blade across the top, decapitating the controls in a shower of bronze sparks.
“No!” Ephialtes wailed. “You’ve ruined the spectacle!”
Percy turned too slowly. Ephialtes swung his spear like a bat and smacked him across the chest. He fell to his knees, the pain turning his stomach to lava.
Jason ran to his side, but Otis lumbered after him. Percy managed to rise and found himself shoulder to shoulder with Jason. Over by the dais, Piper was still on the floor, unable to get up. Nico was barely conscious.
The giants were healing, getting stronger by the minute. Percy was not.
Ephialtes smiled apologetically. “Tired, Percy Jackson? As I said, you cannot kill us. So I guess we’re at an impasse. Oh, wait…no we’re not! Because we can kill you!”
“That,” Otis grumbled, picking up his fallen spear, “is the first thing sensible thing you’ve said all day, brother.”
The giants pointed their weapons, ready to turn Percy and Jason into a demigod-kabob.
“We won’t give up,” Jason growled. “We’ll cut you into pieces like Jupiter did to Saturn.”
“That’s right,” Percy said. “You’re both dead. I don’t care if we have a god on our side or not.”
“Well, that’s a shame,” said a new voice.
To his right, another platform lowered from the ceiling. Leaning casually on a pinecone-topped staff was a man in a purple camp shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals with white socks. He raised his broad-brimmed hat, and purple fire flickered in his eyes. “I’d hate to think I made a special trip for nothing.”