He loomed over the girl, but she didn't flinch.
"Zeus ordained the explosion to destroy the children," she said, "because you defied his will. I had nothing to do with it. And I did warn you to hide them sooner."
"I couldn't! Maria would not let me! Besides, they were innocent."
"Nevertheless, they are your children, which makes them dangerous. Even if you put them away in the Lotus Hotel, you only delay the problem. Nico and Bianca will never be able to rejoin the world lest they turn sixteen."
"Because of your so-called Great Prophecy. And you have forced me into an oath to have no other children. You have left me with nothing!"
"I foresee the future," the girl said. "I cannot change it."
Black fire lit the god's eyes, and I knew something bad was coming. I wanted to yell at the girl to hide or run.
"Then, Oracle, hear the words of Hades," he growled. "Perhaps I cannot bring back Maria. Nor can I bring yon an early death. But your soul is still mortal, and I can curse you."
The girl's eyes widened. "You would not—"
"I swear," Hades said, "as long as my children remain outcasts, as long as I labor under the curse of your Great Prophecy, the Oracle of Delphi will never have another mortal host. You will never rest in peace. No other will take your place. Your body will wither and die, and still the Oracle's spirit will be locked inside you. You will speak your bitter prophecies until you crumble to nothing. The Oracle will die with you!"
The girl screamed, and the misty image was blasted to shreds. Nico fell to his knees in Persephone's garden, his face white with shock. Standing in front of him was the real Hades, towering in his black robes and scowling down at his son.
"And just what," he asked Nico, "do you think you're doing?"
A black explosion filled my dreams. Then the scene changed.
Rachel Elizabeth Dare was walking along a white sand beach. She wore a swimsuit with a T-shirt wrapped around her waist. Her shoulders and face were sunburned.
She knelt and began writing in the surf with her finger. I tried to make out the letters. I thought my dyslexia was acting up until I realized she was writing in Ancient Greek.
That was impossible. The dream had to be false.
Rachel finished writing a few words and muttered, "What in the world?"
I can read Greek, but I only recognized one word before the sea washed it away: Περσεύς. My name: Perseus.
Rachel stood abruptly and backed away from the surf.
"Oh, gods," she said. "That's what it means."
She turned and ran, kicking up sand as she raced back to her family's villa.
She pounded up the porch steps, breathing hard. Her father looked up from his Wall Street Journal
"Dad." Rachel marched up to him. "We have to go back."
Her dad's mouth twitched, like he was trying to remember how to smile. "Back? We just got here."
"There's trouble in New York. Percy's in danger."
"Did he call you?"
"No . . . not exactly. But I know. It's a feeling."
Mr. Dare folded his newspaper. "Your mother and I have been looking forward to this vacation for a long time."
"No you haven't! You both hate the beach! You're just too stubborn to admit it."
"I'm telling you something is wrong in New York! The whole city . . . I don't know what exactly, but it's under attack."
Her father sighed. "I think we would've heard some thing like that on the news."
"No," Rachel insisted. "Not this kind of attack. Have you had any calls since we got here?"
Her father frowned. "No . . . but it is the weekend, in the middle of the summer."
"You always get calls," Rachel said. "You've got to admit that's strange."
Her father hesitated. "We can't just leave. We've spent a lot of money."
"Look," Rachel said. "Daddy . . . Percy needs me. I have to deliver a message. It's life or death."
"What message? What are you talking about?"
"I can't tell you.
"Then you can't go."
Rachel closed her eyes like she was getting up her courage. "Dad . . . let me go, and I'll make a deal with you."
Mr. Dare sat forward. Deals were something he understood. "I'm listening."
"Clarion Ladies Academy. I'll—I'll go there in the fall. I won't even complain. But you have to get me back to New York right now."
He was silent for a long time. Then he opened his phone and made a call.
"Douglas? Prep the plane. We're leaving for New York. Yes . . . immediately."
Rachel flung her arms around him, and her father seemed surprised, like she'd never hugged him before.
"I'll make it up to you, Dad!"
He smiled, but his expression was chilly. He studied her like he wasn't seeing his daughter—just the young lady he wanted her to be, once Clarion Academy got through with her.
"Yes, Rachel," he agreed. "You most certainly will."
The scene faded. I mumbled in my sleep: "Rachel, no!"
I was still tossing and turning when Thalia shook me awake.
"Percy," she said. "Come on. It's late afternoon. We've got visitors."
I sat up, disoriented. The bed was too comfortable, and I hated sleeping in the middle of the day.
"Visitors?" I said.
Thalia nodded grimly. "A Titan wants to see you, under a flag of truce. He has a message from Kronos."
A TITAN BRINGS ME
We could see the white flag from half a mile away. It was as big as a soccer field, carried by a thirty-foot-tall giant with bright blue skin and icy gray hair.
"A Hyperborean," Thalia said. "The giants of the north. It's a bad sign that they sided with Kronos. They're usually peaceful."
"You've met them?" I said.
"Mmm. There's a big colony in Alberta. You do not want to get into a snowball fight with those guys."
As the giant got closer, I could see three human-size envoys with him: a half-blood in armor, an empousa demon with a black dress and flaming hair, and a tall man in a tuxedo. The empousa held the tux dude's arm, so they looked like a couple on their way to a Broadway show or something—
except for her flaming hair and fangs.
The group walked leisurely toward the Heckscher Playground. The swings and ball courts were empty. The only sound was the fountain on Umpire Rock.
I looked at Grover. "The tux dude is the Titan?"
He nodded nervously. "He looks like a magician. I hate magicians. They usually have rabbits."
I stared at him. "You're scared of bunnies?"
"Blah-hah-hah! They're big bullies. Always stealing celery from defenseless satyrs!"
"What?" Grover demanded.
"We'll have to work on your bunny phobia later," I said. "Here they come."
The man in the tux stepped forward. He was taller than an average human—about seven feet. His black hair was tied in a ponytail. Dark round glasses covered his eyes, but what really caught my attention was the skin on his face. It was covered in scratches, like he'd been attacked by a small animal—a really, really mad hamster, maybe.
"Percy Jackson," he said in a silky voice. "It's a great honor."
His lady friend the empousa hissed at me. She'd probably heard how I'd destroyed two of her sisters last summer.
"My dear," Tux Dude said to her. "Why don't you make yourself comfortable over there, eh?"
She released his arm and drifted over to a park bench.
I glanced at the armed demigod behind Tux Dude. 1 hadn't recognized him in his new helmet, but it was my old backstabbing buddy Ethan Nakamura. His nose looked like a squashed tomato from our fight on the Williamsburg Bridge. That made me feel better.
"Hey, Ethan," I said. "You're looking good."
Ethan glared at me.
"To business." Tux Dude extended his hand. "I am Prometheus."
I was too surprised to shake. "The fire-stealer guy? The chained-to-the-rock-with-the-vultures guy?"
Prometheus winced. He touched the scratches on his face. "Please, don't mention the vultures. But yes, I stole fire from the gods and gave it to your ancestors. In return, the ever merciful Zeus had me chained to a rock and tortured for all eternity."
"How did I get free? Hercules did that, eons ago. So you see, I have a soft spot for heroes. Some of you can be quite civilized."
"Unlike the company you keep," I noticed.
I was looking at Ethan, but Prometheus apparently thought I meant the empousa.
"Oh, demons aren't so bad," he said. "You just have to keep them well fed. Now, Percy Jackson, let us parley."
He waved me toward a picnic table and we sat down. Thalia and Grover stood behind me.
The blue giant propped his white flag against a tree and began absently playing on the playground. He stepped on the monkey bars and crushed them, but he didn't seem angry. He just frowned and said, "Uh-oh." Then he stepped in the fountain and broke the concrete bowl in half. "Uh-oh." The water froze where his foot touched it. A bunch of stuffed animals hung from his belt—the huge kind you get for grand prizes at an arcade. He reminded me of Tyson, and the idea of fighting him made me sad.
Prometheus sat forward and laced his fingers. He looked earnest, kindly, and wise. "Percy, your position is weak. You know you can't stop another assault."
Prometheus looked pained, like he really cared what happened to me. "Percy, I'm the Titan of forethought. I know what's going to happen."
"Also the Titan of crafty counsel," Grover put in. "Emphasis on crafty."
Prometheus shrugged. "True enough, satyr. But I supported the gods in the last war. I told Kronos: 'You don't have the strength. You'll lose.' And I was right. So you see, I know how to pick the winning side. This time, I'm backing Kronos."
"Because Zeus chained you to a rock," I guessed.
"Partly, yes. I won't deny I want revenge. But that's not the only reason I'm supporting Kronos. It's the wisest choice. I'm here because I thought you might listen to reason."
He drew a map on the table with his finger. Wherever he touched, golden lines appeared, glowing on the concrete. "This is Manhattan. We have armies here, here, here, and here. We know your numbers. We outnumber you twenty to one."
"Your spy has been keeping you posted," I guessed.
Prometheus smiled apologetically. "At any rate, our forces are growing daily. Tonight, Kronos will attack. You will be overwhelmed. You've fought bravely, but there's just no way you can hold all of Manhattan. You'll be forced to retreat to the Empire State Building. There you'll be destroyed. I have seen this. It will happen."
I thought about the picture Rachel had drawn in my dreams—an army at the base of the Empire State Building. I remembered the words of the young girl Oracle in my dream: I foresee the future. I cannot change it. Prometheus spoke with such certainty it was hard not to believe him.