"Chiron's smart," Annabeth said, wiping the sweat off her face. "If we pursue, we'll get too spread out. We need to regroup."
"But the enemy—"
"They're not defeated," she agreed. "But the dawn is coming. At least we've bought some time."
I didn't like pulling back, but I knew she was right. I watched as the last of the telkhines scuttled toward the East River. Then reluctantly I turned and headed back toward the Empire State Building.
We set up a two-block perimeter, with a command tent at the Empire State Building. Chiron informed us that the Party Ponies had sent chapters from almost every state in the Union: forty from California, two from Rhode Island, thirty from Illinois . . . Roughly five hundred total had answered his call, but even with that many, we couldn't defend more than a few blocks.
"Dude," said a centaur named Larry. His T-shirt identified him as BIG CHIEF UBER GUY, NEW MEXICO CHAPTER. "That was more fun than our last convention in Vegas!"
"Yeah," said Owen from South Dakota. He wore a black leather jacket and an old WWII army helmet. "We totally wasted them!"
Chiron patted Owen on the back. "You did well, my friends, but don't get careless. Kronos should never be underestimated. Now why don't you visit the diner on West 33rd and get some breakfast? I hear the Delaware chapter found a stash of root beer."
"Root beer!" They almost trampled each other as they galloped off.
Chiron smiled. Annabeth gave him a big hug, and Mrs. O'Leary licked his face.
"Ack," he grumbled. "Enough of that, dog. Yes, I'm glad to see you too."
"Chiron, thanks," I said. "Talk about saving the day."
He shrugged. "I'm sorry it took so long. Centaurs travel fast, as you know. We can bend distance as we ride. Even so, getting all the centaurs together was no easy task. The Party Ponies are not exactly organized."
"How'd you get through the magic defenses around the city?" Annabeth asked.
"They slowed us down a bit," Chiron admitted, "but I think they're intended mostly to keep mortals out. Kronos doesn't want puny humans getting in the way of his great victory."
"So maybe other reinforcements can get through," I said hopefully.
Chiron stroked his beard. "Perhaps, though time is short. As soon as Kronos regroups, he will attack again. Without the element of surprise on our side . . ."
I understood what he meant. Kronos wasn't beaten. Not by a long shot. I half hoped Kronos had been squashed under that Hyperborean giant's butt, but I knew better. He'd be back, tonight at the latest.
"And Typhon?" I asked.
Chiron's face darkened. "The gods are tiring. Dionysus was incapacitated yesterday. Typhon smashed his chariot, and the wine god went down somewhere in the Appalachians. No one has seen him since. Hephaestus is out of action as well. He was thrown from the battle so hard he created a new lake in West Virginia. He will heal, but not soon enough to help. The others still fight. They've managed to slow Typhon's approach. But the monster can not be stopped. He will arrive in New York by this time tomorrow. Once he and Kronos combine forces—"
"Then what chance do we have?" I said. "We can't hold out another day."
"We'll have to," Thalia said. "I'll see about setting some new traps around the perimeter."
She looked exhausted. Her jacket was smeared in grime and monster dust, but she managed to get to her feet and stagger off.
"I will help her," Chiron decided. "I should make sure my brethren don't go too overboard with the root beer."
I thought "too overboard" pretty much summed up the Party Ponies, but Chiron cantered off, leaving Annabeth and me alone.
She cleaned the monster slime off her knife. I'd seen her do that hundreds of times, but I'd never thought about why she cared so much about the blade.
"At least your mom is okay," I offered.
"If you call fighting Typhon okay." She locked eyes with me. "Percy, even with the centaurs' help, I'm starting to think—"
"I know." I had a bad feeling this might be our last chance to talk, and I felt like there were a million things I hadn't told her. "Listen, there were some . . . some visions Hestia showed me."
"You mean about Luke?"
Maybe it was just a safe guess, but I got the feeling Annabeth knew what I'd been holding back. Maybe she'd been having dreams of her own.
"Yeah," I said. "You and Thalia and Luke. The first time you met. And the time you met Hermes."
Annabeth slipped her knife back into its sheath. "Luke promised he'd never let me get hurt. He said . . . he said we'd be a new family, and it would turn out better than his."
Her eyes reminded me of that seven-year-old girl's in the alley—angry, scared, desperate for a friend.
"Thalia talked to me earlier," I said. "She's afraid—"
"That I can't face Luke," she said miserably.
I nodded. "But there's something else you should know. Ethan Nakamura seemed to think Luke was still alive inside his body, maybe even fighting Kronos for control."
Annabeth tried to hide it, but I could almost see her mind working on the possibilities, maybe starting to hope.
"I didn't want to tell you," I admitted.
She looked up at the Empire State Building. "Percy, for so much of my life, I felt like everything was changing, all the time. I didn't have anyone I could rely on."
I nodded. That was something most demigods could understand.
"I ran away when I was seven," she said. "Then with Luke and Thalia, I thought I'd found a family, but it fell apart almost immediately. What I'm saying . . . I hate it when people let me down, when things are temporary. I think that's why I want to be an architect."
"To build something permanent," I said. "A monument to last a thousand years."
She held my eyes. "I guess that sounds like my fatal flaw again."
Years ago in the Sea of Monsters, Annabeth had told me her biggest flaw was pride—thinking she could fix anything. I'd even seen a glimpse of her deepest desire, shown to her by the Sirens' magic. Annabeth had imagined her mother and father together, standing in front of a newly rebuilt Manhattan, designed by Annabeth. And Luke had been there too—good again, welcoming her home.
"I guess I understand how you feel," I said. "But Thalia's right. Luke has already betrayed you so many times. He was evil even before Kronos. I don't want him to hurt you anymore."
Annabeth pursed her lips. I could tell she was trying not to get mad. "And you'll understand if I keep hoping there's a chance you're wrong."
I looked away. I felt like I'd done my best, but that didn't make me feel any better.
Across the street, the Apollo campers had set up a field hospital to tend the wounded—dozens of campers and almost as many Hunters. I was watching the medics work, and thinking about our slim chances for holding Mount Olympus. . . .
And suddenly: I wasn't there anymore.
I was standing in a long dingy bar with black walls, neon signs, and a bunch of partying adults. A banner across the bar read HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOBBY EARL. Country music played on the speakers. Big guys in jeans and work shirts crowded the bar. Waitresses carried trays of drinks and shouted at each other. It was pretty much exactly the kind of place my mom would never let me go.
I was stuck in the very back of the room, next to the bathrooms (which didn't smell so great) and a couple of antique arcade games.
"Oh good, you're here," said the man at the Pac-Man machine. "I'll have a Diet Coke."
He was a pudgy guy in a leopard-skin Hawaiian shirt, purple shorts, red running shoes, and black socks, which didn't exactly make him blend in with the crowd. His nose was bright red. A bandage was wrapped around his curly black hair like he was recovering from a concussion.
I blinked. "Mr. D?"
He sighed, not taking his eyes from the game. "Really, Peter Johnson, how long will it take for you to recognize me on sight?"
"About as long as it'll take for you to figure out my name," I muttered. "Where are we?"
"Why, Bobby Earl's birthday party," Dionysus said. "Somewhere in lovely rural America."
"I thought Typhon swatted you out of the sky. They said you crash-landed."
"Your concern is touching. I did crash-land. Very painfully. In fact, part of me is still buried under a hundred feet of rubble in an abandoned coal mine. It will be several more hours before I have enough strength to mend. But in the meantime, part of my consciousness is here."
"At a bar, playing Pac-Man."
"Party time," Dionysus said. "Surely you've heard of it. Wherever there is a party, my presence is invoked. Because of this, I can exist in many different places at once. The only problem was finding a party. I don't know if you're aware how serious things are outside your safe little bubble of New York—"
"Safe little bubble?"
"—but believe me, the mortals out here in the heartland are panicking. Typhon has terrified them. Very few are throwing parties. Apparently Bobby Earl and his friends, bless them, are a little slow. They haven't yet figured out that the world is ending."
"So . . . I'm not really here?"
"No. In a moment I'll send you back to your normal insignificant life, and it will be as if nothing had happened."
"And why did you bring me here?"
Dionysus snorted. "Oh, I didn't want you particularly. Any of you silly heroes would do. That Annie girl—"
"The point is," he said, "I pulled you into party time to deliver a warning. We are in danger."
"Gee," I said. "Never would've figured that out. Thanks."
He glared at me and momentarily forgot his game. Pac-Man got eaten by the red ghost dude.
"Erre es korakas, Blinky!" Dionysus cursed. "I will have your soul!"
"Um, he's a video game character," I said.
"That's no excuse! And you're ruining my game, Jorgenson!"
"Whichever! Now listen, the situation is graver than you imagine. If Olympus falls, not only will the gods fade, but everything that is connected to our legacy will also begin to unravel. The very fabric of your puny little civilization—"
The game played a song and Mr. D progressed to level 254.
"Ha!" he shouted. "Take that, you pixelated fiends!"
"Um, fabric of civilization," I prompted.
"Yes, yes. Your entire society will dissolve. Perhaps not right away, but mark my words, the chaos of the Titans will mean the end of Western civilization. Art, law, wine tastings, music, video games, silk shirts, black velvet paintings—all the things that make life worth living will disappear!"
"So why aren't the gods rushing back to help us?" I said. "We should combine forces at Olympus. Forget Typhon."
He snapped his fingers impatiently. "You forgot my Diet Coke."
"Gods, you're annoying." I got the attention of a waitress and ordered the stupid soda. I put it on Bobby Earl's tab.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com