“I—” Rachel faltered. A tear traced her cheek.
“I know you don’t believe this now,” Pan said. “But look for opportunities. They will come.”
Finally he turned back toward Grover. “My dear satyr,” Pan said kindly, “will you carry my message?”
“You can,” Pan said. “You are the strongest and the bravest. Your heart is true. You have believed in me more than anyone ever has, which is why you must bring the message, and why you must be the first to release me.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know,” the god said. “But my name, Pan…originally it meant rustic. Did you know that? But over the years it has come to mean all. The spirit of the wild must pass to all of you now. You must tell each one you meet: if you would find Pan, take up Pan’s spirit. Remake the wild, a little at a time, each in your own corner of the world. You cannot wait for anyone else, even a god, to do that for you.”
Grover wiped his eyes. Then slowly he stood. “I’ve spent my whole life looking for you. Now…I release you.”
Pan smiled. “Thank you, dear satyr. My final blessing.”
He closed his eyes, and the god dissolved. White mist divided into wisps of energy, but this kind of energy wasn’t scary like the blue power I’d seen from Kronos. It filled the room. A curl of smoke went straight into my mouth, and Grover’s and the others. But I think a little more of it went into Grover. The crystals dimmed. The animals gave us a sad look. Dede the dodo sighed. Then they all turned gray and crumbled to dust. The vines withered. And we were alone in a dark cave, with an empty bed.
I switched on my flashlight.
Grover took a deep breath.
“Are…are you okay?” I asked him.
He looked older and sadder. He took his cap from Annabeth, brushed off the mud, and stuck it firmly on his curly head.
“We should go now,” he said, “and tell them. The great god Pan is dead.”
GROVER CAUSES A STAMPEDE
Distance was shorter in the Labyrinth. Still, by the time Rachel got us back to Times Square, I felt like we’d pretty much run all the way from New Mexico. We climbed out of the Marriott basement and stood on the sidewalk in the bright summer daylight, squinting at the traffic and crowds.
I couldn’t decide which seemed less real—New York or the crystal cave where I’d watched a god die.
I led the way into an alley, where I could get a nice echo. Then I whistled as loud as I could, five times.
A minute later, Rachel gasped. “They’re beautiful!”
A flock of pegasi descended from the sky, swooping between the skyscrapers. Blackjack was in the lead, followed by four of his white friends.
Yo, boss! He spoke in my mind. You lived!
“Yeah,” I told him. “I’m lucky that way. Listen, we need a ride to camp quick.”
That’s my specialty! Oh man, you got that Cyclops with you? Yo, Guido! How’s your back holding up?
The Pegasus Guido groaned and complained, but eventually he agreed to carry Tyson. Everybody started saddling up—except Rachel.
“Well,” she told me, “I guess this is it.”
I nodded uncomfortably. We both knew she couldn’t go to camp. I glanced at Annabeth, who was pretending to be very busy with her Pegasus.
“Thanks, Rachel,” I said. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it. I mean, except for almost dying, and Pan…” Her voice faltered.
“He said something about your father,” I remembered. “What did he mean?”
Rachel twisted the strap on her backpack. “My dad…My dad’s job. He’s kind of a famous businessman.”
“You mean…you’re rich?”
“So that’s how you got the chauffeur to help us? You just said your dad’s name and—”
“Yes,” Rachel cut me off. “Percy…my dad’s a land developer. He flies all over the world, looking for tracts of undeveloped land.” She took a shaky breath. “The wild. He—he buys it up. I hate it, but he plows it down and builds ugly subdivisions and shopping centers. And now that I’ve seen Pan…Pan’s death—”
“Hey, you can’t blame yourself for that.”
“You don’t know the worst of it. I—I don’t like to talk about my family. I didn’t want you to know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No,” I said. “It’s cool. Look, Rachel, you did awesome. You led us through the maze. You were so brave. That’s the only thing I’m going to judge you on. I don’t care what your dad does.”
Rachel looked at me gratefully. “Well…if you ever feel like hanging out with a mortal again…you could call me or something.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.”
She knit her eyebrows. I guess I sounded unenthusiastic or something, but that’s not how I meant it. I just wasn’t sure what to say with all my friends standing around. And I guess my feelings had gotten pretty missed up the last couple of days.
“I mean…I’d like that,” I said.
“My number’s not in the book,” she said.
“I’ve got it.”
“Still on your hand? No way.”
“No. I kinda…memorized it.”
Her smile came back slowly, but a lot happier. “See you later, Percy Jackson. Go save the world for me, okay?”
She walked off down Seventh Avenue and disappeared into the crowds.
When I got back to the horses. Nico was having trouble. His Pegasus kept shying away from him, reluctant to let him mount.
He smells like dead people! The Pegasus complained.
Hey now, Blackjack said. Come on, Porkpie. Lotsa demigods smell weird. It ain’t their fault. Oh—uh, I didn’t mean you, boss.
“Go without me!” Nico said. “I don’t want to go back to that camp anyway.”
“Nico,” I said, “we need your help.”
He folded his arms and scowled. Then Annabeth put her hand on his shoulder.
“Nico,” she said. “Please.”
Slowly, his expression softened. “All right,” he said reluctantly. “For you. but I’m not staying.”
I raised an eyebrow at Annabeth, like, How come all of a sudden Nico listens to you? She stuck her tongue out at me.
At last we got everybody on a Pegasus. We shot into the air, and soon we were over the East river with Long Island spread out before us.
We landed in the middle of the cabin area and were immediately met by Chiron, the potbellied satyr Silenus, and a couple of Apollo cabin archers. Chiron raised an eyebrow when he saw Nico, but if I expected him to be surprised by our latest news about Quintus being Daedalus, or Kronos rising, I was mistaken.
“I feared as much,” Chiron said. “We must hurry. Hopefully you have slowed down the Titan lord, but his vanguard will still be coming through. They will be anxious for blood. Most of our defenders are already in place. Come!”
“Wait a moment,” Silenus demanded. “What of the search for Pan? You are almost three weeks overdue, Grover Underwood! Your searcher’s license is revoked!”
Grover took a deep breath. He stood up straight and looked Silenus in the eye. “Searcher’s licenses don’t matter any more. The great god Pan is dead. He has passed on and left us his spirit.”
“What?” Silenus’s face turned bright red. “Sacrilege and lies! Grover Underwood, I will have you exiled for speaking thus!”
“It’s true,” I said. “We were there when he died. All of us.”
“Impossible! You are all liars! Nature-destroyers!”
Chiron studied Grover’s face. “We will speak of this later.”
“We will speak of it now!” Silenus said. “We must deal with this—”
“Silenus,” Chiron cut in. “My camp is under attack. The matter of Pan has waited two thousand years. I fear it will have to wait a bit longer. Assuming we are still here this evening.”
And on that happy note, he readied his bow and galloped toward the woods, leaving us to follow as best we could.
It was the biggest military operation I’d ever seen at camp. Everyone was at the clearing, dressed in full battle armor, but this time it wasn’t for capture the flag. The Hephaestus cabin had set up traps around the entrance to the Labyrinth—razor wire, pits filled with pots of Greek fire, rows of sharpened sticks to deflect a charge. Beckendorf was manning two catapults the size of pickup trucks, already primed and aimed at Zeus’s Fist. The Ares cabin was on the front line, drilling in phalanx formation with Clarisse calling orders. Apollo’s and Hermes’s cabins were scattered in the woods with bows ready. Many had taken up positions in the trees. Even the dryads were armed with bows, and the satyrs trotted around with wooden cudgels and shields made of rough tree bark.
Annabeth went to join her brethren from the Athena cabin, who had set up a command tent and were directing operations. A gray banner with an owl fluttered outside the tent. Our security chief, Argus, stood guard at the door. Aphrodite’s children were running around straightening everybody’s armor and offering to comb the tangles out of our horsehair plumes. Even Dionysus’s kids had found something to do. The god himself was still nowhere to be seen, but his two blond twin sons were running around providing all the sweaty warriors with water bottles and juice boxes.
It looked like a pretty good setup, but Chiron muttered next to me. “It isn’t enough.”
I thought about what I’d seen in the Labyrinth, all the monsters in Antaeus’s stadium, and the power of Kronos I’d felt of Mt. Tam. My heart sank. Chiron was right, but it was all we could muster. For once I wished Dionysus was here, but even if he had been, I didn’t know if he could do anything. When it came to war, gods were forbidden to interfere directly. Apparently, the Titans didn’t believe in restrictions like that.
Over at the edge of the clearing, Grover was talking to Juniper. She held his hands while he told her our story. Green tears formed in her eyes as he delivered the news about Pan.
Tyson helped the Hephaestus kids prepare the defenses. He picked up boulders and piled them next to the catapults for firing.
“Stay with me, Percy,” Chiron said. “When the fighting begins, I want you to wait until we know what we’re dealing with. You must go where we most need reinforcements.”
“I saw Kronos,” I said, still stunned by the fact. “I looked straight into his eyes. It was Luke…but it wasn’t.”
Chiron ran his fingers along his bowstring. “He had golden eyes, I would guess. And in his presence, time seemed to turn to liquid.”
I nodded. “How could he take over a mortal body?”
“I do not know, Percy. Gods have assumed the shapes of mortals for ages, but to actually become one…to merge the divine form with the mortal. I don’t know how this could be done without Luke’s form turning into ashes.”