A voice in my head said: I have to fight him eventually. Why not now?
According to that big prophecy, I was supposed to make a choice that saved or destroyed the world when I was sixteen. That was only seven days away. Why not now? If I really had the power, what difference would a week make? I could end this threat right here by taking down Kronos. Hey, I'd fought monsters and gods before.
As if reading my thoughts, Luke smiled. No, he was Kronos. I had to remember that.
"Come forward," he said. "If you dare."
The crowd of monsters parted. I moved up the stairs, my heart pounding. I was sure somebody would stab me in the back, but they let me pass. I felt my pocket and found my pen waiting. I uncapped it, and Riptide grew into a sword.
Kronos's weapon appeared in his hands—a six-foot-long scythe, half Celestial bronze, half mortal steel. Just looking at the thing made my knees turn to Jell-O. But before I could change my mind, I charged.
Time slowed down. I mean literally slowed down, because Kronos had that power. I felt like I was moving through syrup. My arms were so heavy, I could barely raise my sword. Kronos smiled, swirling his scythe at normal speed and waiting for me to creep toward my death.
I tried to fight his magic. I concentrated on the sea around me—the source of my power. I'd gotten better at channeling it over the years, but now nothing seemed to happen.
I took another slow step forward. Giants jeered. Dracaenae hissed with laughter.
Hey, ocean, I pleaded. Any day now would be good.
Suddenly there was a wrenching pain in my gut. The entire boat lurched sideways, throwing monsters off their feet. Four thousand gallons of salt water surged out of the swimming pool, dousing me and Kronos and everyone on the deck. The water revitalized me, breaking the time spell, and I lunged forward.
I struck at Kronos, but I was still too slow. I made the mistake of looking at his face—Luke's face—a guy who was once my friend. As much as I hated him, it was hard to kill him.
Kronos had no such hesitation. He sliced downward with his scythe. I leaped back, and the evil blade missed by an inch, cutting a gash in the deck right between my feet.
I kicked Kronos in the chest. He stumbled backward, but he was heavier than Luke should've been. It was like kicking a refrigerator.
Kronos swung his scythe again. I intercepted with Riptide, but his strike was so powerful, my blade could only deflect it. The edge of the scythe shaved off my shirtsleeve and grazed my arm. It shouldn't have been a serious cut, but the entire side of my body exploded with pain. I remembered what a sea demon had once said about Kronos's scythe: Careful, fool. One touch, and the blade will sever your soul from your body. Now I understood what he meant. I wasn't just losing blood. I could feel my strength, my will, my identity draining away.
I stumbled backward, switched my sword to my left hand, and lunged desperately. My blade should've run him through, but it deflected off his stomach like I was hitting solid marble. There was no way he should've survived that.
Kronos laughed. "A poor performance, Percy Jackson. Luke tells me you were never his match at swordplay."
My vision started to blur. I knew I didn't have much time. "Luke had a big head," I said. "But at least it was his head."
"A shame to kill you now," Kronos mused, "before the final plan unfolds. I would love to see the terror in your eyes when you realize how I will destroy Olympus."
"You'll never get this boat to Manhattan." My arm was throbbing. Black spots danced in my vision.
"And why would that be?" Kronos's golden eyes glittered. His face—Luke's face—seemed like a mask, unnatural and lit from behind by some evil power. "Perhaps you are counting on your friend with the explosives?"
He looked down at the pool and called, "Nakamura!"
A teenage guy in full Greek armor pushed through the crowd. His left eye was covered with a black patch. I knew him, of course: Ethan Nakamura, the son of Nemesis. I'd saved his life in the Labyrinth last summer, and in return, the little punk had helped Kronos come back to life.
"Success, my lord," Ethan called. "We found him just as we were told."
He clapped his hands, and two giants lumbered forward, dragging Charles Beckendorf between them. My heart almost stopped. Beckendorf had a swollen eye and cuts all over his face and arms. His armor was gone and his shirt was nearly torn off.
"No!" I yelled.
Beckendorf met my eyes. He glanced at his hand like he was trying to tell me something. His watch. They hadn't taken it yet, and that was the detonator. Was it possible the explosives were armed? Surely the monsters would've dismantled them right away.
"We found him amidships," one of the giants said, "trying to sneak to the engine room. Can we eat him now?"
"Soon." Kronos scowled at Ethan. "Are you sure he didn't set the explosives?"
"He was going toward the engine room, my lord."
"How do you know that?"
"Er . . ." Ethan shifted uncomfortably. "He was heading in that direction. And he told us. His bag is still full of explosives."
Slowly, I began to understand. Beckendorf had fooled them. When he'd realized he was going to be captured, he turned to make it look like he was going the other way. He'd convinced them he hadn't made it to the engine room yet. The Greek fire might still be primed! But that didn't do us any good unless we could get off the ship and detonate it.
Buy the story, I prayed. The pain in my arm was so bad now I could barely stand.
"Open his bag," Kronos ordered.
One of the giants ripped the explosives satchel from Beckendorf's shoulders. He peered inside, grunted, and turned it upside down. Panicked monsters surged backward. If the bag really had been full of Greek fire jars, we would've all blown up. But what fell out were a dozen cans of peaches.
I could hear Kronos breathing, trying to control his anger.
"Did you, perhaps," he said, "capture this demigod near the galley?"
Ethan turned pale. "Um—"
"And did you, perhaps, send someone to actually CHECK THE ENGINE ROOM?"
Ethan scrambled back in terror, then turned on his heels and ran.
I cursed silently. Now we had only minutes before the bombs were disarmed. I caught Beckendorf's eyes again and asked a silent question, hoping he would understand: How long?
He cupped his fingers and thumb, making a circle. Zero. There was no delay on the timer at all. If he managed to press the detonator button, the ship would blow at once. We'd never be able to get far enough away before using it. The monsters would kill us first, or disarm the explosives, or both.
Kronos turned toward me with a crooked smile. "You'll have to excuse my incompetent help, Percy Jackson. But it doesn't matter. We have you now. We've known you were coming for weeks."
He held out his hand and dangled a little silver bracelet with a scythe charm—the Titan lord's symbol.
The wound in my arm was sapping my ability to think, but I muttered, "Communication device . . . spy at camp."
Kronos chuckled. "You can't count on friends. They will always let you down. Luke learned that lesson the hard way. Now drop your sword and surrender to me, or your friend dies."
I swallowed. One of the giants had his hand around Beckendorf's neck. I was in no shape to rescue him, and even if I tried, he would die before I got there. We both would.
Beckendorf mouthed one word: Go.
I shook my head. I couldn't just leave him.
The second giant was still rummaging through the peach cans, which meant Beckendorf's left arm was free. He raised it slowly—toward the watch on his right wrist.
I wanted to scream, NO!
Then down by the swimming pool, one of the dracaenae hissed, "What isss he doing? What isss that on hisss wrissst?"
Beckendorf closed eyes tight and brought his hand up to his watch.
I had no choice. I threw my sword like a javelin at Kronos. It bounced harmlessly off his chest, but it did startle him. I pushed through a crowd of monsters and jumped off the side of the ship—toward the water a hundred feet below.
I heard rumbling deep in the ship. Monsters yelled at me from above. A spear sailed past my ear. An arrow pierced my thigh, but I barely had time to register the pain. I plunged into the sea and willed the currents to take me far, far away—a hundred yards, two hundred yards.
Even from that distance, the explosion shook the world. Heat seared the back of my head. The Princess Andromeda blew up from both sides, a massive fireball of green flame roiling into the dark sky, consuming everything.
Beckendorf, I thought.
Then I blacked out and sank like an anchor toward the bottom of the sea.
I MEET SOME FISHY
Demigod dreams suck.
The thing is, they're never just dreams. They've got to be visions, omens, and all that other mystical stuff that makes my brain hurt.
I dreamed I was in a dark palace at the top of a mountain. Unfortunately, I recognized it: the palace of the Titans on top of Mount Othrys, otherwise known as Mount Tamalpais, in California. The main pavilion was open to the night, ringed with black Greek columns and statues of the Titans. Torchlight glowed against the black marble floor. In the center of the room, an armored giant struggled under the weight of a swirling funnel cloud—Atlas, holding up the sky.
Two other giant men stood nearby over a bronze brazier, studying images in the flames.
"Quite an explosion," one said. He wore black armor studded with silver dots like a starry night. His face was covered in a war helm with a ram's horn curling on either side.
"It doesn't matter," the other said. This Titan was dressed in gold robes, with golden eyes like Kronos. His entire body glowed. He reminded me of Apollo, God of the Sun, except the Titan's light was harsher, and his expression crueler. "The gods have answered the challenge. Soon they will be destroyed."
The images in the fire were hard to make out: storms, buildings crumbling, mortals screaming in terror.
"I will go east to marshal our forces," the golden Titan said. "Krios, you shall remain and guard Mount Othrys."
The ram horn dude grunted. "I always get the stupid jobs. Lord of the South. Lord of Constellations. Now I get to babysit Atlas while you have all the fun."
Under the whirlwind of clouds, Atlas bellowed in agony, "Let me out, curse you! I am your greatest warrior. Take my burden so I may fight!"
"Quiet!" the golden Titan roared. "You had your chance, Atlas. You failed. Kronos likes you just where you are. As for you, Krios, do your duty."
"And if you need more warriors?" Krios asked. "Our treacherous nephew in the tuxedo will not do you much good in a fight."
The golden Titan laughed. "Don't worry about him. Besides, the gods can barely handle our first little challenge. They have no idea how many others we have in store. Mark my words, in a few days' time, Olympus will be in ruins, and we will meet here again to celebrate the dawn of the Sixth Age!"
The golden Titan erupted into flames and disappeared.
"Oh, sure," Krios grumbled. "He gets to erupt into flames. I get to wear these stupid ram's horns."
The scene shifted. Now I was outside the pavilion, hiding in the shadows of a Greek column. A boy stood next to me, eavesdropping on the Titans. He had dark silky hair, pale skin, and dark clothes—my friend Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades.