Death in battle is honorable, said Lupa’s voice.
That’s real comforting, Jason thought.
One last try: Jason took a deep breath and charged.
Enceladus let him approach, grinning with anticipation. At the last second, Jason faked a strike and rolled between the giant’s legs. He came up quickly, thrusting with all his might, ready to stab the giant in the small of his back, but Enceladus anticipated the trick. He stepped aside with too much speed and agility for a giant, as if the earth were helping him move.
He swept his spear sideways, met Jason’s javelin—and with a snap like a shotgun blast, the golden weapon shattered.
The explosion was hotter than the giant’s breath, blinding Jason with golden light. The force knocked him off his feet and squeezed the breath out of him.
When he regained his focus, he was sitting at the rim of a crater. Enceladus stood at the other side, staggering and confused. The javelin’s destruction had released so much energy, it had blasted a perfect cone-shaped pit thirty feet deep, fusing the dirt and rock into a slick glassy substance. Jason wasn’t sure how he’d survived, but his clothes were steaming. He was out of energy. He had no weapon. And Enceladus was still very much alive.
Jason tried to get up, but his legs were like lead. Enceladus blinked at the destruction, then laughed. “Impressive! Unfortunately, that was your last trick, demigod.”
Enceladus leaped the crater in a single bound, planting his feet on either side of Jason. The giant raised his spear, its tip hovering six feet over Jason’s chest.
“And now,” Enceladus said, “my first sacrifice to Gaea!”
TIME SEEMED TO SLOW DOWN, WHICH WAS really frustrating, since Jason still couldn’t move. He felt himself sinking into the earth like the ground was a waterbed—comfortable, urging him to relax and give up. He wondered if the stories of the Underworld were true. Would he end up in the Fields of Punishment or Elysium? If he couldn’t remember any of his deeds, would they still count? He wondered if the judges would take that into consideration, or if his dad, Zeus, would write him a note: “Please excuse Jason from eternal damnation. He has had amnesia.”
Jason couldn’t feel his arms. He could see the tip of the spear coming toward his chest in slow motion. He knew he should move, but he couldn’t seem to do it. Funny, he thought. All that effort to stay alive, and then, boom. You just lie there helplessly while a fire-breathing giant impales you.
Leo’s voice yelled, “Heads up!”
A large black metal wedge slammed into Enceladus with a massive thunk! The giant toppled over and slid into the pit.
“Jason, get up!” Piper called. Her voice energized him, shook him out of his stupor. He sat up, his head groggy, while Piper grabbed him under his arms and hauled him to his feet.
“Don’t die on me,” she ordered. “You are not dying on me.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He felt light-headed, but she was about the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Her hair was smoldering. Her face was smudged with soot. She had a cut on her arm, her dress was torn, and she was missing a boot. Beautiful.
About a hundred feet behind her, Leo was standing over a piece of construction equipment—a long cannonlike thing with a single massive piston, the edge broken clean off.
Then Jason looked down in the crater and saw where the other end of the hydraulic ax had gone. Enceladus was struggling to rise, an ax blade the size of a washing machine stuck in his breastplate.
Amazingly, the giant managed to pull the ax blade free. He yelled in pain and the mountain trembled. Golden ichor soaked the front of his armor, but Enceladus stood.
Shakily, he bent down and retrieved his spear.
“Good try.” The giant winced. “But I cannot be beaten.”
As they watched, the giant’s armor mended itself, and the ichor stopped flowing. Even the cuts on his dragon-scale legs, which Jason had worked so hard to make, were now just pale scars.
Leo ran up to them, saw the giant, and cursed. “What is it with this guy? Die, already!”
“My fate is preordained,” Enceladus said. “Giants cannot be killed by gods or heroes.”
“Only by both,” Jason said. The giant’s smile faltered, and Jason saw in his eyes something like fear. “It’s true, isn’t it? Gods and demigods have to work together to kill you.”
“You will not live long enough to try!” The giant started stumbling up the crater’s slope, slipping on the glassy sides.
“Anyone have a god handy?” Leo asked.
Jason’s heart filled with dread. He looked at the giant below them, struggling to get out of the pit, and he knew what had to happen.
“Leo,” he said, “if you’ve got a rope in that tool belt, get it ready.”
He leaped at the giant with no weapon but his bare hands.
“Enceladus!” Piper yelled. “Look behind you!”
It was an obvious trick, but her voice was so compelling, even Jason bought it. The giant said, “What?” and turned like there was an enormous spider on his back.
Jason tackled his legs at just the right moment. The giant lost his balance. Enceladus slammed into the crater and slid to the bottom. While he tried to rise, Jason put his arms around the giant’s neck. When Enceladus struggled to his feet, Jason was riding his shoulders.
“Get off!” Enceladus screamed. He tried to grab Jason’s legs, but Jason scrabbled around, squirming and climbing over the giant’s hair.
Father, Jason thought. If I’ve ever done anything good, anything you approved of, help me now. I offer my own life—just save my friends.
Suddenly he could smell the metallic scent of a storm. Darkness swallowed the sun. The giant froze, sensing it too.
Jason yelled to his friends, “Hit the deck!”
And every hair on his head stood straight up.
Lightning surged through Jason’s body, straight through Enceladus, and into the ground. The giant’s back stiffened, and Jason was thrown clear. When he regained his bearings, he was slipping down the side of the crater, and the crater was cracking open. The lightning bolt had split the mountain itself. The earth rumbled and tore apart, and Enceladus’s legs slid into the chasm. He clawed helplessly at the glassy sides of the pit, and just for a moment managed to hold on to the edge, his hands trembling.
He fixed Jason with a look of hatred. “You’ve won nothing, boy. My brothers are rising, and they are ten times as strong as I. We will destroy the gods at their roots! You will die, and Olympus will die with—”
The giant lost his grip and fell into the crevice.
The earth shook. Jason fell toward the rift.
“Grab hold!” Leo yelled.
Jason’s feet were at the edge of the chasm when he grabbed the rope, and Leo and Piper pulled him up.
They stood together, exhausted and terrified, as the chasm closed like an angry mouth. The ground stopped pulling at their feet.
For now, Gaea was gone.
The mountainside was on fire. Smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air. Jason spotted a helicopter—maybe firefighters or reporters—coming toward them.
All around them was carnage. The Earthborn had melted into piles of clay, leaving behind only their rock missiles and some nasty bits of loincloth, but Jason figured they would re-form soon enough. Construction equipment lay in ruins. The ground was scarred and blackened.
Coach Hedge started to move. He sat up with a groan and rubbed his head. His canary yellow pants were now the color of Dijon mustard mixed with mud.
He blinked and looked around him at the battle scene. “Did I do this?”
Before Jason could reply, Hedge picked up his club and got shakily to his feet. “Yeah, you wanted some hoof? I gave you some hoof, cupcakes! Who’s the goat, huh?”
He did a little dance, kicking rocks and making what were probably rude satyr gestures at the piles of clay.
Leo cracked a smile, and Jason couldn’t help it—he started to laugh. It probably sounded a little hysterical, but it was such a relief to be alive, he didn’t care.
Then a man stood up across the clearing. Tristan McLean staggered forward. His eyes were hollow, shell-shocked, like someone who’d just walked through a nuclear wasteland.
“Piper?” he called. His voice cracked. “Pipes, what—what is—”
He couldn’t complete the thought. Piper ran over to him and hugged him tightly, but he almost didn’t seem to know her.
Jason had felt a similar way—that morning at the Grand Canyon, when he woke with no memory. But Mr. McLean had the opposite problem. He had too many memories, too much trauma his mind just couldn’t handle. He was coming apart.
“We need to get him out of here,” Jason said.
“Yeah, but how?” Leo said. “He’s in no shape to walk.”
Jason glanced up at the helicopter, which was now circling directly overhead. “Can you make us a bullhorn or something?” he asked Leo. “Piper has some talking to do.”
BORROWING THE HELICOPTER WAS EASY.. Getting her dad on board was not.
Piper needed only a few words through Leo’s improvised bullhorn to convince the pilot to land on the mountain. The Park Service copter was big enough for medical evacuations or search and rescue, and when Piper told the very nice ranger pilot lady that it would be a great idea to fly them to the Oakland Airport, she readily agreed.
“No,” her dad muttered, as they picked him up off the ground. “Piper, what—there were monsters—there were monsters—”
She needed both Leo’s and Jason’s help to hold him, while Coach Hedge gathered their supplies. Fortunately Hedge had put his pants and shoes back on, so Piper didn’t have to explain the goat legs.
It broke Piper’s heart to see her dad like this—pushed beyond the breaking point, crying like a little boy. She didn’t know what the giant had done to him exactly, how the monsters had shattered his spirit, but she didn’t think she could stand to find out.
“It’ll be okay, Dad,” she said, making her voice as soothing as possible. She didn’t want to charmspeak her own father, but it seemed the only way. “These people are my friends. We’re going to help you. You’re safe now.”
He blinked, and looked up at helicopter rotors. “Blades. They had a machine with so many blades. They had six arms …”
When they got him to the bay doors, the pilot came over to help. “What’s wrong with him?” she asked.
“Smoke inhalation,” Jason suggested. “Or heat exhaustion.”
“We should get him to a hospital,” the pilot said.
“It’s okay,” Piper said. “The airport is good.”
“Yeah, the airport is good,” the pilot agreed immediately. Then she frowned, as if uncertain why she’d changed her mind. “Isn’t he Tristan McLean, the movie star?”
“No,” Piper said. “He only looks like him. Forget it.”
“Yeah,” the pilot said. “Only looks like him. I—” She blinked, confused. “I forgot what I was saying. Let’s get going.”