I wanted to think this was just bluster. Nero had always loved threats and grandiose statements. Unlike me, he was a terrible poet. He used flowery language like…well, like every sentence was a pungent bouquet of metaphors. (Oh, that’s another good one. Jotting that down.)

Why had he kept checking his watch? And what wrecking crew could he have been talking about? I had a flashback to my dream of the sun bus careening toward a giant bronze face.

I felt like I was free-falling again. Nero’s plan became horribly clear. After dividing the few demigods defending the camp, he had meant to burn this grove. But that was only part of his attack….

“Oh, gods,” I said. “The Colossus.”

The five demigods shifted uneasily.

“What Colossus?” Kayla asked. “You mean the Colossus of Rhodes?”

“No,” I said. “The Colossus Neronis.”

Cecil scratched his head. “The Colossus Neurotic?”

Ellis Wakefield snorted. “You’re a Colossus Neurotic, Markowitz. Apollo’s talking about the big replica of Nero that stood outside the amphitheater in Rome, right?”

“I’m afraid so,” I said. “While we’re standing here, Nero is going to try to destroy Camp Half-Blood. And the Colossus will be his wrecking crew.”

Miranda flinched. “You mean a giant statue is about to stomp on camp? I thought the Colossus was destroyed centuries ago.”

Ellis frowned. “Supposedly, so was the Athena Parthenos. Now it’s sitting on top of Half-Blood Hill.”

The others’ expressions turned grim. When a child of Ares makes a valid point, you know the situation is serious.

“Speaking of Athena…” Austin picked some incendiary fluff off his shoulder. “Won’t the statue protect us? I mean, that’s what she’s there for, right?”

“She will try,” I guessed. “But you must understand, the Athena Parthenos draws her power from her followers. The more demigods under her care, the more formidable her magic. And right now—”

“The camp is practically empty,” Miranda finished.

“Not only that,” I said, “but the Athena Parthenos is roughly forty feet tall. If memory serves, Nero’s Colossus was more than twice that.”

Ellis grunted. “So they’re not in the same weight class. It’s an uneven match.”

Cecil Markowitz stood a little straighter. “Guys…did you feel that?”

I thought he might be playing one of his Hermes pranks. Then the ground shook again, ever so slightly. From somewhere in the distance came a rumbling sound like a battleship scraping over a sandbar.

“Please tell me that was thunder,” Kayla said.

Ellis cocked his head, listening. “It’s a war machine. A big automaton wading ashore about half a klick from here. We need to get to camp right now.”

No one argued with Ellis’s assessment. I supposed he could distinguish between the sounds of war machines the same way I could pick out an off-tune violin in a Rachmaninoff symphony.

To their credit, the demigods rose to the challenge. Despite the fact that they’d been recently bound, doused in flammable substances, and staked like human tiki torches, they closed ranks and faced me with determination in their eyes.

“How do we get out of here?” Austin asked. “The myrmekes’ lair?”

I felt suddenly suffocated, partly because I had five people looking at me as if I knew what to do. I didn’t. In fact, if you want to know a secret, we gods usually don’t. When confronted for answers, we usually say something Rhea-like: You will have to find out for yourself! Or True wisdom must be earned! But I didn’t think that would fly in this situation.

Also, I had no desire to plunge back into the ants’ nest. Even if we made it through alive, it would take much too long. Then we would have to run perhaps half the length of the forest.

I stared at the Vince-shaped hole in the canopy. “I don’t suppose any of you can fly?”

They shook their heads.

“I can cook,” Cecil offered.

Ellis smacked him on the shoulder.

I looked back at the myrmekes’ tunnel. The solution came to me like a voice whispering in my ear: You know someone who can fly, stupid.

It was a risky idea. Then again, rushing off to fight a giant automaton was also not the safest plan of action.

“I think there’s a way,” I said. “But I’ll need your help.”

Austin balled his fists. “Anything you need. We’re ready to fight.”