Mr. D took a good long drink. His eyes never left the video game. "The truth is, Pierre—"

"Percy."

"—the other gods would never admit this, but we actually need you mortals to rescue Olympus. You see, we are manifestations of your culture. If you don't care enough to save Olympus yourselves—"

"Like Pan," I said, "depending on the satyrs to save the Wild."

"Yes, quite. I will deny I ever said this, of course, but the gods need heroes. They always have. Otherwise we would not keep you annoying little brats around."

"I feel so wanted. Thanks."

"Use the training I have given you at camp."

"What training?"

"You know. All those hero techniques and . . . No!" Mr. D slapped the game console. "Na pari i eychi! The last level!"

He looked at me, and purple fire flickered in his eyes. "As 1 recall, I once predicted you would turn out to be as selfish as all the other human heroes. Well, here is your chance to prove me wrong."

"Yeah, making you proud is real high on my list."

"You must save Olympus, Pedro! Leave Typhon to the Olympians and save our own seats of power. It must be done!"

"Great. Nice little chat. Now, if you don't mind, my friends will be wondering—"

"There is more," Mr. D warned. "Kronos has not yet attained full power. The body of the mortal was only a temporary measure."

"We kind of guessed that."

"And did you also guess that within a day at most, Kronos will burn away that mortal body and take on the true form of a Titan king?"

"And that would mean . . ."

Dionysus inserted another quarter. "You know about the true forms of the gods."

"Yeah. You can't look at them without burning up."

"Kronos would be ten times more powerful. His very presence would incinerate you. And once he achieves this, he will empower the other Titans. They are weak now, compared to what they will soon become, unless you can stop them. The world will fall, the gods will die, and I will never achieve a perfect score on this stupid machine."

Maybe I should've been terrified, but honestly, I was already about as scared as I could get.

"Can I go now?" I asked.

"One last thing. My son Pollux. Is he alive?"

I blinked. "Yeah, last I saw him."

"I would very much appreciate it if you could keep him that way. I lost his brother Castor last year—"

"I remember." I stared at him, trying to wrap my mind around the idea that Dionysus could be a caring father. I wondered how many other Olympians were thinking about their demigod children right now. "I'll do my best."

"Your best," Dionysus muttered. "Well, isn't that reassuring. Go now. You have some nasty surprises to deal with, and I must defeat Blinky!"

"Nasty surprises?"

He waved his hand, and the bar disappeared.

I was back on Fifth Avenue. Annabeth hadn't moved. She didn't give any sign that I'd been gone or anything.

She caught me staring and frowned. "What?"

"Um . . . nothing, I guess."

I gazed down the avenue, wondering what Mr. D had meant by nasty surprises. How much worse could it get?

My eyes rested on a beat-up blue car. The hood was badly dented, like somebody had tried to hammer out some huge craters. My skin tingled. Why did that car look so familiar? Then I realized it was a Prius.

Paul's Prius.

I bolted down the street.

"Percy!" Annabeth called. "Where are you going?"

Paul was passed out in the driver's seat. My mom was snoring beside him. My mind felt like mush. How had I not seen them before? They'd been sitting here in traffic for over a day, the battle raging around them, and I hadn't even noticed.

"They . . . they must've seen those blue lights in the sky." I rattled the doors but they were locked. "I need to get them out."

"Percy," Annabeth said gently.

"I can't leave them here!" I sounded a little crazy. I pounded on the windshield. "I have to move them. I have to—"

"Percy, just . . . just hold on." Annabeth waved to Chiron, who was talking to some centaurs down the block. "We can push the car to a side street, all right? They're going to be fine."

My hands trembled. After all I'd been through over the last few days, I felt so stupid and weak, but the sight of my parents made me want to break down.

Chiron galloped over. "What's . . . Oh dear. I see."

"They were coming to find me," I said. "My mom must've sensed something was wrong."

"Most likely," Chiron said. "But, Percy, they will be fine. The best thing we can do for them is stay focused on our job."

Then I noticed something in the backseat of the Prius, and my heart skipped a beat. Seat-belted behind my mother was a black-and-white Greek jar about three feet tall. Its lid was wrapped in a leather harness.

"No way," I muttered.

Annabeth pressed her hand to the window. "That's impossible! I thought you left that at the Plaza."

"Locked in a vault," I agreed.

Chiron saw the jar and his eyes widened. "That isn't— "

"Pandora's jar." I told him about my meeting with Prometheus.

"Then the jar is yours," Chiron said grimly. "It will follow you and tempt you to open it, no matter where you leave it. It will appear when you are weakest."

Like now, I thought. Looking at my helpless parents.

I imagined Prometheus smiling, so anxious to help out us poor mortals. Give up Hope, and I will know that you are surrendering. I promise Kronos will be lenient.

Anger surged through me. I drew Riptide and cut through the driver's side window like it was made of plastic wrap.

"We'll put the car in neutral," I said. "Push them out of the way. And take that stupid jar to Olympus."

Chiron nodded. "A good plan. But, Percy . . ."

Whatever he was going to say, he faltered. A mechanical drumbeat grew loud in the distance—the chop-chop-chop of a helicopter.

On a normal Monday morning in New York, this would've been no big deal, but after two days of silence, a mortal helicopter was the oddest thing I'd ever heard. A few blocks east, the monster army shouted and jeered as the helicopter came into view. It was a civilian model painted dark red, with a bright green "DE" logo on the side. The words under the logo were too small to read, but I knew what they said: DARE ENTERPRISES.

My throat closed up. I looked at Annabeth and could tell she recognized the logo too. Her face was as red as the helicopter.

"What is she doing here?" Annabeth demanded. "How did she get through the barrier?"

"Who?" Chiron looked confused. "What mortal would be insane enough—"

Suddenly the helicopter pitched forward.

"The Morpheus enchantment!" Chiron said. "The foolish mortal pilot is asleep."

I watched in horror as the helicopter careened sideways, falling toward a row of office buildings. Even if it didn't crash, the gods of the air would probably swat it out of the sky for coming near the Empire State Building.

I was too paralyzed to move, but Annabeth whistled and Guido the pegasus swooped out of nowhere.

You rang for a handsome horse? he asked.

"Come on, Percy," Annabeth growled. "We have to save your friend."

SIXTEEN

WE GET HELP FROM

A THIEF

Here's my definition of not fun. Fly a pegasus toward an out-of-control helicopter. If Guido had been any less of a fancy flier, we would've been chopped to confetti.

I could hear Rachel screaming inside. For some reason, she hadn't fallen asleep, but I could see the pilot slumped over the controls, pitching back and forth as the helicopter wobbled toward the side of an office building.

"Ideas?" I asked Annabeth.

"You're going to have to take Guido and get out," she said.

"What are you going to do?"

In response, she said, "Hyah!" and Guido went into a nosedive.

"Duck!" Annabeth yelled.

We passed so close to the rotors I felt the force of the blades ripping at my hair. We zipped along the side of the helicopter, and Annabeth grabbed the door.

That's when things went wrong.

Guido's wing slammed against the helicopter. He plummeted straight down with me on his back, leaving Annabeth dangling from the side of the aircraft. I was so terrified I could barely think, but as Guido spiraled I caught a glimpse of Rachel pulling Annabeth inside the copter.

"Hang in there!" I yelled at Guido.

My wing, he moaned. It's busted.

"You can do it!" I desperately tried to remember what Silena used to tell us in pegasus-riding lessons. "Just relax the wing. Extend it and glide."

We fell like a rock—straight toward the pavement three hundred feet below. At the last moment Guido extended his wings. I saw the faces of centaurs gaping up at us. Then we pulled out of our dive, sailed fifty feet, and tumbled onto the pavement—pegasus over demigod.

Ow! Guido moaned. My legs. My head. My wings.

Chiron galloped over with his medical pouch and began working on the pegasus.

I got to my feet. When I looked up, my heart crawled into my throat. The helicopter was only a few seconds away from slamming into the side of the building.

Then miraculously the helicopter righted itself. It spun in a circle and hovered. Very slowly, it began to descend.

It seemed to take forever, but finally the helicopter thudded to a landing in the middle of Fifth Avenue. I looked through the windshield and couldn't believe what I was seeing. Annabeth was at the controls.

I ran forward as the rotors spun to a stop. Rachel opened the side door and dragged out the pilot.

Rachel was still dressed like she was on vacation, in beach shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals. Her hair was tangled and her face was green from the helicopter ride.

Annabeth climbed out last.

I stared at her in awe. "I didn't know you could fly a helicopter."

"Neither did I," she said. "My dad's crazy into aviation. Plus, Daedalus had some notes on flying machines. I just took my best guess on the controls."

"You saved my life," Rachel said.

Annabeth flexed her bad shoulder. "Yeah, well . . . let's not make a habit of it. What are you doing here, Dare? Don't you know better than to fly into a war zone?"

"I—" Rachel glanced at me. "I had to be here. I knew Percy was in trouble."

"Got that right," Annabeth grumbled. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I have some injured friends I've got to tend to. Glad you could stop by, Rachel."

'Annabeth—" I called.

She stormed off.

Rachel plopped down on the curb and put her head in her hands. "I'm sorry, Percy. I didn't mean to . . . I always mess things up."

It was kind of hard to argue with her, though I was glad she was safe. I looked in the direction Annabeth had gone, but she'd disappeared into the crowd. I couldn't believe what she'd just done—saved Rachel's life, landed a helicopter, and walked away like it was no big deal.

"It's okay," I told Rachel, though my words sounded hollow. "So what's the message you wanted to deliver?"

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