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The last part of his plan was the trickiest. From his tool belt he summoned some wires, a radio adapter, and a smaller screwdriver and started to build a universal remote. For the first time, he said a silent thank-you to his dad—Hephaestus—for the magic tool belt. Get me out of here, he prayed, and maybe you’re not such a jerk.

Piper kept talking, laying on the praise. “Oh, I’ve heard about the northern Cyclopes!” Which Leo figured was bull, but she sounded convincing. “I never knew you were so big and clever!”

“Flattery won’t work either,” Ma Gasket said, though she sounded pleased. “It’s true, you’ll be breakfast for the best Cyclopes around.”

“But aren’t Cyclopes good?” Piper asked. “I thought you made weapons for the gods.”

“Bah! I’m very good. Good at eating people. Good at smashing. And good at building things, yes, but not for the gods. Our cousins, the elder Cyclopes, they do this, yes. Thinking they’re so high and mighty ’cause they’re a few thousand years older. Then there’s our southern cousins, living on islands and tending sheep. Morons! But we Hyperborean Cyclopes, the northern clan, we’re the best! Founded Monocle Motors in this old factory—the best weapons, armor, chariots, fuel-efficient SUVs! And yet—bah! Forced to shut down. Laid off most of our tribe. The war was too quick. Titans lost. No good! No more need for Cyclops weapons.”

“Oh, no,” Piper sympathized. “I’m sure you made some amazing weapons.”

Torque grinned. “Squeaky war hammer!” He picked up a large pole with an accordion-looking metal box on the end.

He slammed it against the floor and the cement cracked, but there was also a sound like the world’s largest rubber ducky getting stomped.

“Terrifying,” Piper said.

Torque looked pleased. “Not as good as the exploding ax, but this one can be used more than once.”

“Can I see it?” Piper asked. “If you could just free my hands—”

Torque stepped forward eagerly, but Ma Gasket said, “Stupid! She’s tricking you again. Enough talk! Slay the boy first before he dies on his own. I like my meat fresh.”

No! Leo’s fingers flew, connecting the wires for the remote. Just a few more minutes!

“Hey, wait,” Piper said, trying to get the Cyclopes’ attention. “Hey, can I just ask—”

The wires sparked in Leo’s hand. The Cyclopes froze and turned in his direction. Then Torque picked up a truck and threw it at him.

Leo rolled as the truck steamrolled over the machinery. If he’d been a half-second slower, he would’ve been smashed.

He got to his feet, and Ma Gasket spotted him. She yelled, “Torque, you pathetic excuse for a Cyclops, get him!”

Torque barreled toward him. Leo frantically gunned the toggle on his makeshift remote.

Torque was fifty feet away. Twenty feet.

Then the first robotic arm whirred to life. A three-ton yellow metal claw slammed the Cyclops in the back so hard, he landed flat on his face. Before Torque could recover, the robotic hand grabbed him by one leg and hurled him straight up.

“AHHHHH!” Torque rocketed into the gloom. The ceiling was too dark and too high up to see exactly what happened, but judging from the harsh metal clang, Leo guessed the Cyclops had hit one of the support girders.

Torque never came down. Instead, yellow dust rained to the floor. Torque had disintegrated.

Ma Gasket stared at Leo in shock. “My son … You … You …”

As if on cue, Sump lumbered into the firelight with a case of salsa. “Ma, I got the extra-spicy—”

He never finished his sentence. Leo spun the remote’s toggle, and the second robotic arm whacked Sump in the chest. The salsa case exploded like a piñata and Sump flew backward, right into the base of Leo’s third machine. Sump may have been immune to getting hit with truck chasses, but he wasn’t immune to robotic arms that could deliver ten thousand pounds of force. The third crane arm slammed him against the floor so hard, he exploded into dust like a broken flour sack.

Two Cyclopes down. Leo was beginning to feel like Commander Tool Belt when Ma Gasket locked her eye on him. She grabbed the nearest crane arm and ripped it off its pedestal with a savage roar. “You busted my boys! Only I get to bust my boys!”

Leo punched a button, and the two remaining arms swung into action. Ma Gasket caught the first one and tore it in half. The second arm smacked her in the head, but that only seemed to make her mad. She grabbed it by the clamps, ripped it free, and swung it like a baseball bat. It missed Piper and Jason by an inch. Then Ma Gasket let it go—spinning it toward Leo. He yelped and rolled to one side as it demolished the machine next to him.

Leo started to realize that an angry Cyclops mother was not something you wanted to fight with a universal remote and a screwdriver. The future for Commander Tool Belt was not looking so hot.

She stood about twenty feet from him now, next to the cooking fire. Her fists were clenched, her teeth bared. She looked ridiculous in her chain mail muumuu and her greasy pigtails—but given the murderous glare in her huge red eye and the fact that she was twelve feet tall, Leo wasn’t laughing.

“Any more tricks, demigod?” Ma Gasket demanded.

Leo glanced up. The engine block suspended on the chain—if only he’d had time to rig it. If only he could get Ma Gasket to take one step forward. The chain itself … that one link … Leo shouldn’t have been able to see it, especially from so far down, but his senses told him there was metal fatigue.

“Heck, yeah, I got tricks!” Leo raised his remote control. “Take one more step, and I’ll destroy you with fire!”

Ma Gasket laughed. “Would you? Cyclopes are immune to fire, you idiot. But if you wish to play with flames, let me help!”

She scooped red-hot coals into her bare hands and flung them at Leo. They landed all around his feet.

“You missed,” he said incredulously. Then Ma Gasket grinned and picked up a barrel next to the truck. Leo just had time to read the stenciled word on the side—kerosene —before Ma Gasket threw it. The barrel split on the floor in front of him, spilling lighter fluid everywhere.

Coals sparked. Leo closed his eyes, and Piper screamed, “No!”

A firestorm erupted around him. When Leo opened his eyes he was bathed in flames swirling twenty feet into the air.

Ma Gasket shrieked with delight, but Leo didn’t offer the fire any good fuel. The kerosene burned off, dying down to small fiery patches on the floor.

Piper gasped. “Leo?”

Ma Gasket looked astonished. “You live?” Then she took that extra step forward, which put her right where Leo wanted. “What are you?”

“The son of Hephaestus,” Leo said. “And I warned you I’d destroy you with fire.”

He pointed one finger in the air and summoned all his will. He’d never tried to do anything so focused and intense—but he shot a bolt of white-hot flames at the chain suspending the engine block above the Cyclops’s head—aiming for the link that looked weaker than rest.

The flames died. Nothing happened. Ma Gasket laughed. “An impressive try, son of Hephaestus. It’s been many centuries since I saw a fire user. You’ll make a spicy appetizer!”

The chain snapped—that single link heated beyond its tolerance point—and the engine block fell, deadly and silent.

“I don’t think so,” Leo said.

Ma Gasket didn’t even have time to look up.

Smash! No more Cyclops—just a pile of dust under a five-ton engine block.

“Not immune to engines, huh?” Leo said. “Boo-yah!”

Then he fell to his knees, his head buzzing. After a few minutes he realized Piper was calling his name.

“Leo! Are you all right? Can you move?”

He stumbled to his feet. He’d never tried to summon such an intense fire before, and it had left him completely drained.

It took him a long time to get Piper down from her chains. Then together they lowered Jason, who was still unconscious. Piper managed to trickle a little nectar into his mouth, and he groaned. The welt on his head started to shrink. His color came back a little.

“Yeah, he’s got a nice thick skull,” Leo said. “I think he’s gonna be fine.”

“Thank god,” Piper sighed. Then she looked at Leo with something like fear. “How did you—the fire—have you always … ?”

Leo looked down. “Always,” he said. “I’m a freaking menace. Sorry, I should’ve told you guys sooner but—”

“Sorry?” Piper punched his arm. When he looked up, she was grinning. “That was amazing, Valdez! You saved our lives. What are you sorry about?”

Leo blinked. He started to smile, but his sense of relief was ruined when he noticed something next to Piper’s foot.

Yellow dust—the powdered remains of one of the Cyclopes, maybe Torque—was shifting across the floor like an invisible wind was pushing it back together.

“They’re forming again,” Leo said. “Look.”

Piper stepped away from the dust. “That’s not possible. Annabeth told me monsters dissipate when they’re killed. They go back to Tartarus and can’t return for a long time.”

“Well, nobody told the dust that.” Leo watched as it collected into a pile, then very slowly spread out, forming a shape with arms and legs.

“Oh, god.” Piper turned pale. “Boreas said something about this—the earth yielding up horrors. ‘When monsters no longer stay in Tartarus, and souls are no longer confined to Hades.’ How long do you think we have?”

Leo thought about the face that had formed in the ground outside—the sleeping woman who was definitely a horror from the earth.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But we need to get out of here.”

JASON DREAMED HE WAS WRAPPED in chains, hanging upside down like a hunk of meat. Everything hurt—his arms, his legs, his chest, his head. Especially his head. It felt like an overinflated water balloon.

“If I’m dead,” he murmured, “why does it hurt so much?”

“You’re not dead, my hero,” said a woman’s voice. “It is not your time. Come, speak with me.”

Jason’s thoughts floated away from his body. He heard monsters yelling, his friends screaming, fiery explosions, but it all seemed to be happening on another plane of existence —getting farther and farther away.

He found himself standing in an earthen cage. Tendrils of tree roots and stone whirled together, confining him. Outside the bars, he could see the floor of a dry reflecting pool, another earthen spire growing at the far end, and above them, the ruined red stones of a burned-out house.

Next to him in the cage, a woman sat cross-legged in black robes, her head covered by a shroud. She pushed aside her veil, revealing a face that was proud and beautiful—but also hardened with suffering.

“Hera,” Jason said.

“Welcome to my prison,” said the goddess. “You will not die today, Jason. Your friends will see you through—for now.”