I got thrown but I landed on my feet. "C'MON, you stupid worm! Look at me!"
For the next several minutes, all I saw were teeth. I retreated and dodged poison, but I couldn't hurt the thing.
At the edge of my vision, I saw a flying chariot land on Fifth Avenue.
Then someone ran toward us. A girl's voice, shaken with grief, cried, "NO! Curse you, WHY?"
I dared to glance over, but what I saw made no sense. Clarisse was lying on the ground where she'd fallen. Her armor smoked with poison. Annabeth and the Ares campers were trying to unfasten her helmet. And kneeling next to them, her face blotchy with tears, was a girl in camp clothes. It was . . . Clarisse.
My head spun. Why hadn't I noticed before? The girl in Clarisse's armor was much thinner, not as tall. But why would someone pretend to be Clarisse?
I was so stunned, the drakon almost snapped me in half. I dodged and the beast buried its head in a brick wall.
"WHY?" The real Clarisse demanded, holding the other girl in her arms while the campers struggled to remove the poison-corroded helmet.
Chris Rodriguez ran over from the flying chariot. He and Clarisse must've ridden it here from camp, chasing the Ares campers, who'd mistakenly been following the other girl, thinking she was Clarisse. But it still made no sense.
The drakon tugged its head from the brick wall and screamed in rage.
"Look out!" Chris warned.
Instead of turning toward me, the drakon whirled toward the sound of Chris's voice. It bared its fangs at the group of demigods.
The real Clarisse looked up at the drakon, her face filled with absolute hate. I'd seen a look that intense only once before. Her father, Ares, had worn the same expression when I'd fought him in single combat.
"YOU WANT DEATH?" Clarisse screamed at the drakon. "WELL, COME ON!"
She grabbed her spear from the fallen girl. With no armor or shield, she charged the drakon.
I tried to close the distance to help, but Clarisse was faster. She leaped aside as the monster struck, pulverizing the ground in front of her. Then she jumped onto the creature's head. As it reared up, she drove her electric spear into its good eye with so much force it shattered the shaft, releasing all of the magic weapon's power.
Electricity arced across the creature's head, causing its whole body to shudder. Clarisse jumped free, rolling safely to the sidewalk as smoke boiled from the drakon's mouth. The drakon's flesh dissolved, and it collapsed into a hollow scaly tunnel of armor.
The rest of us stared at Clarisse in awe. I had never seen anyone take down such a huge monster single-handedly. But Clarisse didn't seem to care. She ran back to the wounded girl who'd stolen her armor.
Finally Annabeth managed to remove the girl's helmet. We all gathered around: the Ares campers, Chris, Clarisse, Annabeth, and me. The battle still raged along Fifth Avenue, but for that moment nothing existed except our small circle and the fallen girl.
Her features, once beautiful, were badly burned from poison. I could tell that no amount of nectar or ambrosia would save her.
Something is about to happen. Rachel's words rang in my ears. A trick that ends in death.
Now I knew what she meant, and I knew who had led the Ares cabin into battle.
I looked down at the dying face of Silena Beauregard.
I SIT ON THE
"What were you thinking?" Clarisse cradled Silena's head in her lap.
Silena tried to swallow, but her lips were dry and cracked. "Wouldn't . . . listen. Cabin would . . . only follow you."
"So you stole my armor," Clarisse said in disbelief. "You waited until Chris and I went out on patrol; you stole my armor and pretended to be me." She glared at her siblings. "And NONE of you noticed?"
The Ares campers developed a sudden interest in their combat boots.
"Don't blame them," Silena said. "They wanted to . . . to believe I was you."
"You stupid Aphrodite girl," Clarisse sobbed. "You charged a drakon? Why?"
"All my fault," Silena said, a tear streaking the side of her face. "The drakon, Charlie's death . . . camp endangered—"
"Stop it!" Clarisse said. "That's not true."
Silena opened her hand. In her palm was a silver bracelet with a scythe charm, the mark of Kronos.
A cold fist closed around my heart. "You were the spy."
Silena tried to nod. "Before . . . before I liked Charlie, Luke was nice to me. He was so . . . charming. Handsome. Later, I wanted to stop helping him, but he threatened to tell. He promised . . . he promised I was saving lives. Fewer people would get hurt. He told me he wouldn't hurt . . . Charlie. He lied to me."
I met Annabeth's eyes. Her face was chalky. She looked like somebody had just yanked the world out from under her feet.
Behind us, the battle raged.
Clarisse scowled at her cabinmates. "Go, help the centaurs. Protect the doors. GO!"
They scrambled off to join the fight.
Silena took a heavy, painful breath. "Forgive me."
"You're not dying," Clarisse insisted.
"Charlie . . ." Silena's eyes were a million miles away. "See Charlie . . ."
She didn't speak again.
Clarisse held her and wept. Chris put a hand on her shoulder.
Finally Annabeth closed Silena's eyes.
"We have to fight." Annabeth's voice was brittle. "She gave her life to help us. We have to honor her."
Clarisse sniffled and wiped her nose. "She was a hero, understand? A hero."
I nodded. "Come on, Clarisse."
She picked up a sword from one of her fallen siblings. "Kronos is going to pay."
* * *
I'd like to say I drove the enemy away from the Empire State Building. The truth was Clarisse did all the work. Even without her armor or spear, she was a demon. She rode her chariot straight into the Titan's army and crushed everything in her path.
She was so inspiring, even the panicked centaurs started to rally. The Hunters scrounged arrows from the fallen and launched volley after volley into the enemy. The Ares cabin slashed and hacked, which was their favorite thing. The monsters retreated toward 35th Street.
Clarisse drove to the drakon's carcass and looped a grappling line through its eye sockets. She lashed her horses and took off, dragging the drakon behind the chariot like a Chinese New Year dragon. She charged after the enemy, yelling insults and daring them to cross her. As she rode, I realized she was literally glowing. An aura of red fire flickered around her.
"The blessing of Ares," Thalia said. "I've never seen it in person before."
For the moment, Clarisse was as invincible as I was. The enemy threw spears and arrows, but nothing hit her.
"I AM CLARISSE, DRAKON-SLAYER!" she yelled. "I will kill you ALL! Where is Kronos? Bring him out! Is he a coward?"
"Clarisse!" I yelled. "Stop it. Withdraw!"
"What's the matter, Titan lord?" she yelled. "BRING IT ON!"
There was no answer from the enemy. Slowly, they began to fall back behind a dracaenae shield wall, while Clarisse drove in circles around Fifth Avenue, daring anyone to cross her path. The two-hundred-foot-long drakon carcass made a hollow scraping noise against the pavement, like a thousand knives.
Meanwhile, we tended our wounded, bringing them inside the lobby. Long after the enemy had retreated from sight, Clarisse kept riding up and down the avenue with her horrible trophy, demanding that Kronos meet her battle.
Chris said, "I'll watch her. She'll get tired eventually. I'll make sure she comes inside."
"What about the camp?" I asked. "Is anybody left there?"
Chris shook his head. "Only Argus and the nature spirits. Peleus the dragon is still guarding the tree."
"They won't last long," I said. "But I'm glad you came."
Chris nodded sadly. "I'm sorry it took so long. I tried to reason with Clarisse. I said there's no point in defending camp if you guys die. All our friends are here. I'm sorry it took Silena . . ."
"My Hunters will help you stand guard," Thalia said. "Annabeth and Percy, you should go to Olympus. I have a feeling they'll need you up there—to set up the final defense."
The doorman had disappeared from the lobby. His book was facedown on the desk and his chair was empty. The rest of the lobby, however, was jam-packed with wounded campers, Hunters, and satyrs.
Connor and Travis Stoll met us by the elevators.
"Is it true?" Connor asked. "About Silena?"
I nodded. "She died a hero."
Travis shifted uncomfortably. "Um, I also heard—"
"That's it," I insisted. "End of story."
"Right," Travis mumbled. "Listen, we figure the Titan's army will have trouble getting up the elevator. They'll have to go up a few at a time. And the giants won't be able to fit at all."
"That's our biggest advantage," I said. "Any way to disable the elevator?"
"It's magic," Travis said. "Usually you need a key card, but the doorman vanished. That means the defenses are crumbling. Anyone can walk into the elevator now and head straight up."
"Then we have to keep them away from the doors," I said. "We'll bottle them up in the lobby."
"We need reinforcements," Travis said. "They'll just keep coming. Eventually they'll overwhelm us."
"There are no reinforcements," Connor complained.
I looked outside at Mrs. O'Leary, who was breathing against the glass doors and smearing them with hellhound drool.
"Maybe that's not true," I said.
I went outside and put a hand on Mrs. O'Leary s muzzle. Chiron had bandaged her paw, but she was still limping. Her fur was matted with mud, leaves, pizza slices, and dried monster blood.
"Hey, girl." I tried to sound upbeat. "I know you're tired, but I've got one more big favor to ask you." I leaned next to her and whispered in her ear.
After Mrs. O'Leary shadow-traveled away, I rejoined Annabeth in the lobby. On the way to the elevator, we spotted Grover kneeling over a fat wounded satyr.
"Leneus!" I said.
The old satyr looked terrible. His lips were blue. There was a broken spear in his belly, and his furry goat legs were twisted at a painful angle.
He tried to focus on us, but I don't think he saw us.
"Grover?" he murmured.
"I'm here, Leneus." Grover was blinking back tears, despite all the horrible things Leneus had said about him.
"Did . . . did we win?"
"Um . . . yes," Grover lied. "Thanks to you, Leneus. We drove the enemy away."
"Told you," the old satyr mumbled. "True leader. True . . ."
He closed his eyes for the last time.
Grover gulped. He put his hand on Leneus's forehead and spoke an ancient blessing. The old satyr's body melted, until all that was left was a tiny sapling in a pile of fresh soil.
"A laurel," Grover said in awe. "Oh, that lucky old goat."
He gathered up the sapling in his hands. "I . . . I should plant him. In Olympus, in the gardens."
"We're going that way," I said. "Come on."
Easy-listening music played as the elevator rose. I thought about the first time I'd visited Mount Olympus, back when I was twelve. Annabeth and Grover hadn't been with me then. I was glad they were with me now. I had a feeling it might be our last adventure together.