The ogres shuffled forward. They were small compared to Enceladus, about seven feet tall. Each one of them had six arms—one pair in the regular spot, then an extra pair sprouting out the top of their shoulders, and another set shooting from the sides of their rib cages. They wore only ragged leather loincloths, and even across the clearing, Leo could smell them. Six guys who never bathed, with six armpits each. Leo decided if he survived this day, he’d have to take a three-hour shower just to forget the stench.
Leo stepped toward Piper. “What—what are those?”
Her blade reflected the purple light of the bonfire. “Gegenees.”
“In English?” Leo asked.
“The Earthborn,” she said. “Six-armed giants who fought Jason—the first Jason.”
“Very good, my dear!” Enceladus sounded delighted. “They used to live on a miserable place in Greece called Bear Mountain. Mount Diablo is much nicer! They are lesser children of Mother Earth, but they serve their purpose. They’re good with construction equipment—”
“Vroom, vroom!” one of the Earthborn bellowed, and the others took up the chant, each moving his six hands as though driving a car, as if it were some kind of weird religious ritual. “Vroom, vroom!”
“Yes, thank you, boys,” Encedalus said. “They also have a score to settle with heroes. Especially anyone named Jason.”
“Yay-son!” the Earthborn screamed. They all picked up clumps of earth, which solidified in their hands, turning to nasty pointed stones. “Where Yay-son? Kill Yay-son!”
Enceladus smiled. “You see, Piper, you have a choice. Save your father, or ah, try to save your friends and face certain death.”
Piper stepped forward. Her eyes blazed with such rage, even the Earthborn backed away. She radiated power and beauty, but it had nothing to do with her clothes or her makeup.
“You will not take the people I love,” she said. “None of them.”
Her words rippled across the clearing with such force, the Earthborn muttered, “Okay. Okay, sorry,” and began to retreat.
“Stand your ground, fools!” Enceladus bellowed. He snarled at Piper. “This is why we wanted you alive, my dear. You could have been so useful to us. But as you wish. Earth-born! I will show you Jason.”
Leo’s heart sank. But the giant didn’t point to Jason. He pointed to the other side of the bonfire, where Tristan McLean hung helpless and half conscious.
“There is Jason,” Enceladus said with pleasure. “Tear him apart!”
Leo’s biggest surprise: One look from Jason, and all three of them knew the game plan. When had that happened, that they could read each other so well?
Jason charged Enceladus, while Piper rushed to her father, and Leo dashed for the tree harvester, which stood between Mr. McLean and the Earthborn.
The Earthborn were fast, but Leo ran like a storm spirit. He leaped toward the harvester from five feet away and slammed into the driver’s seat. His hands flew across the controls, and the machine responded with unnatural speed—coming to life as if it knew how important this was.
“Ha!” Leo screamed, and swung the crane arm through the bonfire, toppling burning logs onto the Earthborn and spraying sparks everywhere. Two giants went down under a fiery avalanche and melted back into the earth—hopefully to stay for a while.
The other four ogres stumbled across burning logs and hot coals while Leo brought the harvester around. He smashed a button, and on the end of the crane arm the wicked rotating blades began to whir.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Piper at the stake, cutting her father free. On the other side of the clearing, Jason fought the giant, somehow managing to dodge his massive spear and blasts of fire breath. Coach Hedge was still heroically passed out with his goat tail sticking up in the air.
The whole side of the mountain would soon be ablaze. The fire wouldn’t bother Leo, but if his friends got trapped up here—No. He had to act quickly.
One of the Earthborn—apparently not the most intelligent one—charged the tree harvester, and Leo swung the crane arm in his direction. As soon as the blades touched the ogre, he dissolved like wet clay and splattered all over the clearing. Most of him flew into Leo’s face.
He spit clay out of his mouth and turned the harvester toward the three remaining Earthborn, who backed up quickly.
“Bad vroom-vroom!” one yelled.
“Yeah, that’s right!” Leo yelled at them. “You want some bad vroom-vroom? Come on!”
Unfortunately, they did. Three ogres with six arms, each throwing large, hard rocks at super speed—and Leo knew it was over. Somehow, he launched himself in a backward somersault off the harvester half a second before a boulder demolished the driver’s seat. Rocks slammed into metal. By the time Leo stumbled to his feet, the harvester looked like a crushed soda can, sinking in the mud.
“Dozer!” Leo yelled.
The ogres were picking up more clumps of earth, but this time they were glaring in Piper’s direction.
Thirty feet away, the bulldozer roared to life. Leo’s makeshift gadget had done its job, burrowing into the earthmover’s controls and giving it a temporary life of its own. It roared toward the enemy.
Just as Piper cut her father free and caught him in her arms, the giants launched their second volley of stones. The dozer swiveled in the mud, skidding to intercept, and most of the rocks slammed into its shovel. The force was so great it pushed the dozer back. Two rocks ricocheted and struck their throwers. Two more Earthborn melted into clay. Unfortunately, one rock hit the dozer’s engine, sending up a cloud of oily smoke, and the dozer groaned to a stop. Another great toy broken.
Piper dragged her father below the ridge. The last Earth-born charged after her.
Leo was out of tricks, but he couldn’t let that monster get to Piper. He ran forward, straight through the flames, and grabbed something—anything—from his tool belt.
“Hey, stupid!” he yelled, and threw a screwdriver at the Earthborn.
It didn’t kill the ogre, but it sure got his attention. The screwdriver sank hilt-deep into the Earthborn’s forehead like he was made of Play-Doh.
The Earthborn yelped in pain and skittered to a halt. He pulled out the screwdriver, turned and glared at Leo. Sadly, this last ogre looked like the biggest and nastiest of the bunch. Gaea had really gone all out creating him—with extra muscle upgrades, deluxe ugly face, the whole package.
Oh, great, Leo thought. I’ve made a friend.
“You die!” the Earthborn roared. “Friend of Yay-son dies!”
The ogre scooped up handfuls of dirt, which immediately hardened into rock cannonballs.
Leo’s mind went blank. He reached into his tool belt, but he couldn’t think of anything that would help. He was supposed to be clever—but he couldn’t craft or build or tinker his way out of this one.
Fine, he thought. I’ll go out blaze-of-glory style.
He burst into flames, yelled, “Hephaestus!” and charged at the ogre barehanded.
He never got there.
A blur of turquoise and black flashed behind the ogre. A gleaming bronze blade sliced up one side of the Earthborn and down the other.
Six large arms dropped to the ground, boulders rolling out of their useless hands. The Earthborn looked down, very surprised. He mumbled, “Arms go bye-bye.”
Then he melted into the ground.
Piper stood there, breathing hard, her dagger covered with clay. Her dad sat at the ridge, dazed and wounded, but still alive.
Piper’s expression was ferocious—almost crazy, like a cornered animal. Leo was glad she was on his side.
“Nobody hurts my friends,” she said, and with a sudden warm feeling, Leo realized she was talking about him. Then she yelled, “Come on!”
Leo saw that the battle wasn’t over. Jason was still fighting the giant Enceladus—and it wasn’t going well.
WHEN JASON’S LANCE BROKE, he knew he was dead.
The battle had started well enough. Jason’s instincts kicked in, and his gut told him he’d dueled opponents almost this big before. Size and strength equaled slowness, so Jason just had to be quicker—pace himself, wear out his opponent, and avoid getting smashed or flame-broiled.
He rolled away from the giant’s first spear thrust and jabbed Enceladus in the ankle. Jason’s javelin managed to pierce the thick dragon hide, and golden ichor—the blood of immortals—trickled down the giant’s clawed foot.
Enceladus bellowed in pain and blasted him with fire. Jason scrambled away, rolling behind the giant, and struck again behind his knee.
It went on like that for seconds, minutes—it was hard to judge. Jason heard combat across the clearing—construction equipment grinding, fire roaring, monsters shouting, and rocks smashing into metal. He heard Leo and Piper yelling defiantly, which meant they were still alive. Jason tried not to think about it. He couldn’t afford to get distracted.
Enceladus’s spear missed him by a millimeter. Jason kept dodging, but the ground stuck to his feet. Gaea was getting stronger, and the giant was getting faster. Enceladus might be slow, but he wasn’t dumb. He began anticipating Jason’s moves, and Jason’s attacks were only annoying him, making him more enraged.
“I’m not some minor monster,” Enceladus bellowed. “I am a giant, born to destroy gods! Your little gold toothpick can’t kill me, boy.”
Jason didn’t waste energy replying. He was already tired. The ground clung to his feet, making him feel like he weighed an extra hundred pounds. The air was full of smoke that burned his lungs. Fires roared around him, stoked by the winds, and the temperature was approaching the heat of an oven.
Jason raised his javelin to block the giant’s next strike—a big mistake. Don’t fight force with force, a voice chided him—the wolf Lupa, who’d told him that long ago. He managed to deflect the spear, but it grazed his shoulder, and his arm went numb.
He backed up, almost tripping over a burning log.
He had to delay—to keep the giant’s attention fixed on him while his friends dealt with the Earthborn and rescued Piper’s dad. He couldn’t fail.
He retreated, trying to lure the giant to the edge of the clearing. Enceladus could sense his weariness. The giant smiled, baring his fangs.
“The mighty Jason Grace,” he taunted. “Yes, we know about you, son of Jupiter. The one who led the assault on Mount Othrys. The one who single-handedly slew the Titan Krios and toppled the black throne.”
Jason’s mind reeled. He didn’t know these names, yet they made his skin tingle, as if his body remembered the pain his mind didn’t.
“What are you talking about?” he asked. He realized his mistake when Enceladus breathed fire.
Distracted, Jason moved too slowly. The blast missed him, but heat blistered his back. He slammed into the ground, his clothes smoldering. He was blinded from ash and smoke, choking as he tried to breathe.
He scrambled back as the giant’s spear cleaved the ground between his feet.
Jason managed to stand.
If he could only summon one good blast of lightning—but he was already drained, and in this condition, the effort might kill him. He didn’t even know if electricity would harm the giant.