Jason was running out of enemies. Wolves lay in dazed heaps. Some slunk away into the ruins, yelping from their wounds. Piper stabbed the last Earthborn, who toppled to the ground in a pile of sludge. Jason rode Tempest through the last ventus, breaking it into vapor. Then he wheeled around and saw Leo bearing down on the goddess of snow.
“You’re too late,” Khione snarled. “He’s awake! And don’t think you’ve won anything here, demigods. Hera’s plan will never work. You’ll be at each other’s throats before you can ever stop us.”
Leo set his hammers ablaze and threw them at the goddess, but she turned into snow—a white powdery image of herself. Leo’s hammers slammed into the snow woman, breaking it into a steaming mound of mush.
Piper was breathing hard, but she smiled up at Jason. “Nice horse.”
Tempest reared on his hind legs, arcing electricity across his hooves. A complete show-off.
Then Jason heard a cracking sound behind him. The melting ice on Hera’s cage sloughed off in a curtain of slush, and the goddess called, “Oh, don’t mind me! Just the queen of the heavens, dying over here!”
Jason dismounted and told Tempest to stay put. The three demigods jumped into the pool and ran to the spire.
Leo frowned. “Uh, Tía Callida, are you getting shorter?”
“No, you dolt! The earth is claiming me. Hurry!”
As much as Jason disliked Hera, what he saw inside the cage alarmed him. Not only was Hera sinking, the ground was rising around her like water in a tank. Liquid rock had already covered her shins. “The giant wakes!” Hera warned. “You only have seconds!”
“On it,” Leo said. “Piper, I need your help. Talk to the cage.”
“What?” she said.
“Talk to it. Use everything you’ve got. Convince Gaea to sleep. Lull her into a daze. Just slow her down, try to get the tendrils to loosen while I—”
“Right!” Piper cleared her throat and said, “Hey, Gaea. Nice night, huh? Boy, I’m tired. How about you? Ready for some sleep?”
The more she talked, the more confident she sounded. Jason felt his own eyes getting heavy, and he had to force himself not to focus on her words. It seemed to have some effect on the cage. The mud was rising more slowly. The tendrils seemed to soften just a little—becoming more like tree root than rock. Leo pulled a circular saw out of his tool belt. How it fit in there, Jason had no idea. Then Leo looked at the cord and grunted in frustration. “I don’t have anywhere to plug it in!”
The spirit horse Tempest jumped into the pit and whinnied.
“Really?” Jason asked.
Tempest dipped his head and trotted over to Leo. Leo looked dubious, but he held up the plug, and a breeze whisked it into the horse’s flank. Lighting sparked, connecting with the prongs of the plug, and the circular saw whirred to life.
“Sweet!” Leo grinned. “Your horse comes with AC outlets!”
Their good mood didn’t last long. On the other side of the pool, the giant’s spire crumbled with a sound like a tree snapping in half. Its outer sheath of tendrils exploded from the top down, raining stone and wood shards as the giant shook himself free and climbed out of the earth.
Jason hadn’t thought anything could be scarier than Enceladus.
He was wrong.
Porphyrion was even taller, and even more ripped. He didn’t radiate heat, or show any signs of breathing fire, but there was something more terrible about him—a kind of strength, even magnetism, as if the giant were so huge and dense he had his own gravitational field.
Like Enceladus, the giant king was humanoid from the waist up, clad in bronze armor, and from the waist down he had scaly dragon’s legs; but his skin was the color of lima beans. His hair was green as summer leaves, braided in long locks and decorated with weapons—daggers, axes, and full-size swords, some of them bent and bloody—maybe trophies taken from demigods eons before. When the giant opened his eyes, they were blank white, like polished marble. He took a deep breath.
“Alive!” he bellowed. “Praise to Gaea!”
Jason made a heroic little whimpering sound he hoped his friends couldn’t hear. He was very sure no demigod could solo this guy. Porphyrion could lift mountains. He could crush Jason with one finger.
“Leo,” Jason said.
“Huh?” Leo’s mouth was wide open. Even Piper seemed dazed.
“You guys keep working,” Jason said. “Get Hera free!”
“What are you going to do?” Piper asked. “You can’t seriously—”
“Entertain a giant?” Jason said. “I’ve got no choice.”
“Excellent!” the giant roared as Jason approached. “An appetizer! Who are you—Hermes? Ares?”
Jason thought about going with that idea, but something told him not to.
“I’m Jason Grace,” he said. “Son of Jupiter.”
Those white eyes bored into him. Behind him, Leo’s circular saw whirred, and Piper talked to the cage in soothing tones, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.
Porphyrion threw back his head and laughed. “Outstanding!” He looked up at the cloudy night sky. “So, Zeus, you sacrifice a son to me? The gesture is appreciated, but it will not save you.”
The sky didn’t even rumble. No help from above. Jason was on his own.
He dropped his makeshift club. His hands were covered in splinters, but that didn’t matter now. He had to buy Leo and Piper some time, and he couldn’t do that without a proper weapon.
It was time to act a whole lot more confident than he felt.
“If you knew who I was,” Jason yelled up at the giant, “you’d be worried about me, not my father. I hope you enjoyed your two and a half minutes of rebirth, giant, because I’m going to send you right back to Tartarus.”
The giant’s eyes narrowed. He planted one foot outside the pool and crouched to get a better look at his opponent. “So … we’ll start by boasting, will we? Just like old times! Very well, demigod. I am Porphryion, king of the giants, son of Gaea. In olden times, I rose from Tatarus, the abyss of my father, to challenge the gods. To start the war, I stole Zeus’s queen.” He grinned at the goddess’s cage. “Hello, Hera.”
“My husband destroyed you once, monster!” Hera said. “He’ll do it again!”
“But he didn’t, my dear! Zeus wasn’t powerful enough to kill me. He had to rely on a puny demigod to help, and even then, we almost won. This time, we will complete what we started. Gaea is waking. She has provisioned us with many fine servants. Our armies will shake the earth—and we will destroy you at the roots.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Hera said, but she was weakening. Jason could hear it in her voice. Piper kept whispering to the cage, and Leo kept sawing, but the earth was still rising inside Hera’s prison, covering her up to her waist.
“Oh, yes,” the giant said. “The Titans sought to attack your new home in New York. Bold, but ineffective. Gaea is wiser and more patient. And we, her greatest children, are much, much stronger than Kronos. We know how to kill you Olympians once and for all. You must be dug up completely like rotten trees—your eldest roots torn out and burned.”
The giant frowned at Piper and Leo, as if he’d just noticed them working at the cage. Jason stepped forward and yelled to get back Porphyrion’s attention.
“You said a demigod killed you,” he shouted. “How, if we’re so puny?”
“Ha! You think I would explain it to you? I was created to be Zeus’s replacement, born to destroy the lord of the sky. I shall take his throne. I shall take his wife—or, if she will not have me, I will let the earth consume her life force. What you see before you, child, is only my weakened form. I will grow stronger by the hour, until I am invincible. But I am already quite capable of smashing you to a grease spot!”
He rose to his full height and held out his hand. A twenty-foot spear shot from the earth. He grasped it, then stomped the ground with his dragon’s feet. The ruins shook. All around the courtyard, monsters started to regather—storm spirits, wolves, and Earthborn, all answering the giant king’s call.
“Great,” Leo muttered. “We needed more enemies.”
“Hurry,” Hera said.
“I know!” Leo snapped.
“Go to sleep, cage,” Piper said. “Nice, sleepy cage. Yes, I’m talking to a bunch of earthen tendrils. This isn’t weird at all.”
Porphyrion raked his spear across the top of the ruins, destroying a chimney and spraying wood and stone across the courtyard. “So, child of Zeus! I have finished my boasting. Now it’s your turn. What were you saying about destroying me?”
Jason looked at the ring of monsters, waiting impatiently for their master’s order to tear them to shreds. Leo’s circular saw kept whirring, and Piper kept talking, but it seemed hopeless. Hera’s cage was almost completely filled with earth.
“I’m the son of Jupiter!” he shouted, and just for effect, he summoned the winds, rising a few feet off the ground. “I’m a child of Rome, consul to demigods, praetor of the First Legion.” Jason didn’t know quite what he was saying, but he rattled off the words like he’d said them many times before. He held out his arms, showing the tattoo of the eagle and SPQR, and to his surprise the giant seemed to recognize it.
For a moment, Porphyrion actually looked uneasy.
“I slew the Trojan sea monster,” Jason continued. “I toppled the black throne of Kronos, and destroyed the Titan Krios with my own hands. And now I’m going to destroy you, Porphyrion, and feed you to your own wolves.”
“Wow, dude,” Leo muttered. “You been eating red meat?”
Jason launched himself at the giant, determined to tear him apart.
The idea of fighting a forty-foot-tall immortal bare handed was so ridiculous, even the giant seemed surprised. Half flying, half leaping, Jason landed on the giant’s scaly reptilian knee and climbed up the giant’s arm before Porphyrion even realized what had happened.
“You dare?” the giant bellowed.
Jason reached his shoulders and ripped a sword out of the giant’s weapon-filled braids. He yelled, “For Rome!” and drove the sword into the nearest convenient target—the giant’s massive ear.
Lightning streaked out of the sky and blasted the sword, throwing Jason free. He rolled when he hit the ground. When he looked up, the giant was staggering. His hair was on fire, and the side of his face was blackened from lightning. The sword had splintered in his ear. Golden ichor ran down his jaw. The other weapons were sparking and smoldering in his braids.
Porphyrion almost fell. The circle of monsters let out a collective growl and moved forward—wolves and ogres fixing their eyes on Jason.
“No!” Porphyrion yelled. He regained his balance and glared at the demigod. “I will kill him myself.”
The giant raised his spear and it began to glow. “You want to play with lightning, boy? You forget. I am the bane of Zeus. I was created to destroy your father, which means I know exactly what will kill you.”