Then a shadow swooped under me, and thump—I was on Blackjack's back. It wasn't the most comfortable landing. In fact, when I yelled "OW!" my voice was an octave higher than usual.
Sorry, boss, Blackjack murmured.
"No problem," I squeaked. "Follow that pig!"
The porker had taken a right at East 42nd and was flying back toward Fifth Avenue. When it flew above the rooftops, I could see fires here and there around the city. It looked like my friends were having a rough time. Kronos was attacking on several fronts. But at the moment, I had my own problems.
The Hermes statue was still on its leash. It kept bonking into buildings and spinning around. The pig swooped over an office building, and Hermes plowed into a water tower on the roof, blasting water and wood everywhere.
Then something occurred to me.
"Get closer," I told Blackjack.
He whinnied in protest.
"Just within shouting distance," I said. "I need to talk to the statue."
Now I'm sure you've lost it, boss, Blackjack said, but he did what I asked. When I was close enough to see the statue's face clearly, I yelled, "Hello, Hermes! Command sequence: Daedalus Twenty-three. Kill Flying Pigs! Begin Activation!"
Immediately the statue moved its legs. It seemed confused to find that it was no longer on top of Grand Central Terminal. It was, instead, being given a sky-ride on the end of a rope by a large winged sow. It smashed through the side of a brick building, which I think made it a little mad. It shook its head and began to climb the rope.
I glanced down at the street. We were coming up on the main public library, with the big marble lions flanking the steps. Suddenly I had a weird thought: Could stone statues be automatons too? It seemed like a long shot, but . . .
"Faster!" I told Blackjack. "Get in front of the pig, Taunt him!"
"Trust me," I said. "I can do this . . . probably."
Oh, sure. Mock the horse.
Blackjack burst through the air. He could fly pretty darned fast when he wanted to. He got in front of the pig, which now had a metal Hermes on its back.
Blackjack whinnied, You smell like ham! He kicked the pig in the snout with his back hooves and went into a steep dive. The pig screamed in rage and followed.
We barreled straight for the front steps of the library. Blackjack slowed down just enough for me to hop off, then he kept flying toward the main doors.
I yelled out, "Lions! Command sequence: Daedalus Twenty-three. Kill Flying Pigs! Begin Activation!"
The lions stood up and looked at me. They probably thought I was teasing them. But just then: "REEEEEET!"
The massive pink pork monster landed with a thud, cracking the sidewalk. The lions stared at it, not believing their luck, and pounced. At the same time, a very beat-up Hermes statue leaped onto the pig's head and started banging it mercilessly with a caduceus. Those lions had some nasty claws.
I drew Riptide, but there wasn't much for me to do. The pig disintegrated before my eyes. I almost felt sorry for it. I hoped it got to meet the boar of its dreams down in Tartarus.
When the monster had completely turned to dust, the lions and the Hermes statue looked around in confusion.
"You can defend Manhattan now," I told them, but they didn't seem to hear. They went charging down Park Avenue, and I imagined they would keep looking for flying pigs until someone deactivated them.
Hey, boss, said Blackjack. Can we take a donut break?
I wiped the sweat off my brow. "I wish, big guy, but the fight's still going on."
In fact, I could hear it getting closer. My friends needed help. I jumped on Blackjack, and we flew north toward the sound of explosions.
CHIRON THROWS A
Midtown was a war zone. We flew over little skirmishes everywhere. A giant was ripping up trees in Bryant Park while dryads pelted him with nuts. Outside the Waldorf Astoria, a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin was whacking a hellhound with a rolled-up newspaper. A trio of Hephaestus campers fought a squad of dracaenae in the middle of Rockefeller Center.
I was tempted to stop and help, but I could tell from the smoke and noise that the real action had moved farther south. Our defenses were collapsing. The enemy was closing in on the Empire State Building.
We did a quick sweep of the surrounding area. The Hunters had set up a defensive line on 37th, just three blocks north of Olympus. To the east on Park Avenue, Jake Mason and some other Hephaestus campers were leading an army of statues against the enemy. To the west, the Demeter cabin and Grover's nature spirits had turned Sixth Avenue into a jungle that was hampering a squadron of Kronos's demigods. The south was clear for now, but the flanks of the enemy army were swinging around. A few more minutes and we'd be totally surrounded.
"We have to land where they need us most," I muttered.
That's everywhere, boss.
I spotted a familiar silver owl banner in the southeast corner of the fight, 33rd at the Park Avenue tunnel. Annabeth and two of her siblings were holding back a Hyperborean giant.
"There!" I told Blackjack. He plunged toward the battle.
I leaped off his back and landed on the giant's head. When the giant looked up, I slid off his face, shield-bashing his nose on the way down.
"RAWWWR!' The giant staggered backward, blue blood trickling from his nostrils.
I hit the pavement running. The Hyperborean breathed a cloud of white mist, and the temperature dropped. The spot where I'd landed was now coated with ice, and I was covered in frost like a sugar donut.
"Hey, ugly!" Annabeth yelled. I hoped she was talking to the giant, not me.
Blue Boy bellowed and turned toward her, exposing the unprotected back of his legs. I charged and stabbed him behind the knee.
"WAAAAH!" The Hyperborean buckled. I waited for him to turn, but he froze. I mean he literally turned to solid ice. From the point where I'd stabbed him, cracks appeared in his body. They got larger and wider until the giant crumbled in a mountain of blue shards.
"Thanks." Annabeth winced, trying to catch her breath. "The pig?"
"Pork chops," I said.
"Good." She flexed her shoulder. Obviously, the wound was still bothering her, but she saw my expression and rolled her eyes. "I'm fine, Percy. Come on! We've got plenty of enemies left."
She was right. The next hour was a blur. I fought like I'd never fought before—wading into legions of dracaenae, taking out dozens of telkhines with every strike, destroying empousai and knocking out enemy demigods. No matter how many I defeated, more took their place.
Annabeth and I raced from block to block, trying to shore up our defenses. Too many of our friends lay wounded in the streets. Too many were missing.
As the night wore on and the moon got higher, we were backed up foot by foot until we were only a block from the Empire State Building in any direction. At one point Grover was next to me, bonking snake women over the head with his cudgel. Then he disappeared in the crowd, and it was Thalia at my side, driving the monsters back with the power of her magic shield. Mrs. O'Leary bounded out of nowhere, picked up a Laistrygonian giant in her mouth, and flung him into the air like a Frisbee. Annabeth used her invisibility cap to sneak behind the enemy lines. Whenever a monster disintegrated for no apparent reason with a surprised look on his face, I knew Annabeth had been there.
But it still wasn't enough.
"Hold your lines!" Katie Gardner shouted, somewhere off to my left.
The problem was there were too few of us to hold anything. The entrance to Olympus was twenty feet behind me. A ring of brave demigods, Hunters, and nature spirits guarded the doors. I slashed and hacked, destroying everything in my path, but even I was getting tired, and I couldn't be everywhere at once.
Behind the enemy troops, a few blocks to the east, a bright light began to shine. I thought it was the sunrise. Then I realized Kronos was riding toward us on a golden chariot. A dozen Laistrygonian giants bore torches before him. Two Hyperboreans carried his black-and-purple banners. The Titan lord looked fresh and rested, his powers at full strength. He was taking his time advancing, letting me wear myself down.
Annabeth appeared next to me. "We have to fall back to the doorway. Hold it at all costs!"
She was right. I was about to order a retreat when I heard the hunting horn.
It cut through the noise of the battle like a fire alarm. A chorus of horns answered from all around us, echoing off the buildings of Manhattan.
I glanced at Thalia, but she just frowned.
"Not the Hunters," she assured me. "We're all here."
The horns got louder. I couldn't tell where they were coming from because of the echo, but it sounded like an entire army was approaching.
I was afraid it might be more enemies, but Kronos's forces looked as confused as we were. Giants lowered their clubs. Dracaenae hissed. Even Kronos's honor guard looked uneasy.
Then, to our left, a hundred monsters cried out at once. Kronos's entire northern flank surged forward. I thought we were doomed, but they didn't attack. They ran straight past us and crashed into their southern allies.
A new blast of horns shattered the night. The air shimmered. In a blur of movement, an entire cavalry appeared as if dropping out of light speed.
"Yeah, baby!" a voice wailed. "PARTY!"
A shower of arrows arced over our heads and slammed into the enemy, vaporizing hundreds of demons. But these weren't regular arrows. They made whizzy sounds as they flew, like WHEEEEEE! Some had pinwheels attached to them. Others had boxing gloves rather than points.
"Centaurs!" Annabeth yelled.
The Party Pony army exploded into our midst in a riot of colors: tie-dyed shirts, rainbow Afro wigs, oversize sunglasses, and war-painted faces. Some had slogans scrawled across their flanks like HORSEZ PWN or KRONOS SUX.
Hundreds of them filled the entire block. My brain couldn't process everything I saw, but I knew if I were the enemy, I'd be running.
"Percy!" Chiron shouted across the sea of wild centaurs. He was dressed in armor from the waist up, his bow in his hand, and he was grinning in satisfaction. "Sorry we're late!"
"DUDE!" Another centaur yelled. "Talk later. WASTE MONSTERS NOW!"
He locked and loaded a double-barrel paint gun and blasted an enemy hellhound bright pink. The paint must've been mixed with Celestial bronze dust or something, because as soon as it splattered the hellhound, the monster yelped and dissolved into a pink-and-black puddle.
"PARTY PONIES.'" a centaur yelled. "SOUTH FLORIDA!"
Somewhere across the battlefield, a twangy voice yelled back, "HEART OF TEXAS CHAPTER!"
"HAWAII OWNS YOUR FACES!" a third one shouted.
It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. The entire Titan army turned and fled, pushed back by a flood of paintballs, arrows, swords, and NERF baseball bats. The centaurs trampled everything in their path.
"Stop running, you fools!" Kronos yelled. "Stand and ACKK!"
That last part was because a panicked Hyperborean giant stumbled backward and sat on top of him. The lord of time disappeared under a giant blue butt.
We pushed them for several blocks until Chiron yelled, "HOLD! On your promise, HOLD!"
It wasn't easy, but eventually the order got relayed up and down the ranks of centaurs, and they started to pull back, letting the enemy flee.