“Really?” Octavian said. “You seem to know a lot about our enemy’s plans, Percy Jackson.”
Most insults Percy could shrug off—being called weak or stupid or whatever. But it dawned on him that Octavian was calling him a spy—a traitor. That was such a foreign concept to Percy, so not who he was, he almost couldn’t process the slur. When he did, his shoulders tensed. He was tempted to smack Octavian on the head again, but he realized Octavian was baiting him, trying to make him look unstable.
Percy took a deep breath.
“We’re going to confront this son of Gaea,” he said, managing to keep his composure. “We’ll get back your eagle and unchain this god…” He glanced at Hazel. “Thanatos, right?”
She nodded. “Letus, in Roman. But his old Greek name is Thanatos. When it comes to Death…we’re happy to let him stay Greek.”
Octavian sighed in exasperation. “Well, whatever you call him…how do you expect to do all this and get back by the Feast of Fortuna? That’s the evening of the twenty-fourth. It’s the twentieth now. Do you even know where to look? Do you even know who this son of Gaea is?”
“Yes.” Hazel spoke with such certainty that even Percy was surprised. “I don’t know exactly where to look, but I have a pretty good idea. The giant’s name is Alcyoneus.”
That name seemed to lower the temperature in the room by fifty degrees. The senators shivered.
Reyna gripped her podium. “How do you know this, Hazel? Because you’re a child of Pluto?”
Nico di Angelo had been so quiet, Percy had almost forgotten he was there. Now he stood in his black toga.
“Praetor, if I may,” he said. “Hazel and I…we learned a little about the giants from our father. Each giant was bred specifically to oppose one of the twelve Olympian gods—tousurp that god’s domain. The king of giants was Porphyrion, the anti-Jupiter. But the eldest giant was Alcyoneus. He was born to oppose Pluto. That’s why we know of him in particular.”
Reyna frowned. “Indeed? You sound quite familiar with him.”
Nico picked at the edge of his toga. “Anyway…the giants were hard to kill. According to prophecy, they could only be defeated by gods and demigods working together.”
Dakota belched. “Sorry, did you say gods and demigods…like fighting side by side? That could never happen!”
“It has happened,” Nico said. “In the first giant war, the gods called on heroes to join them, and they were victorious. Whether it could happen again, I don’t know. But with Alcyoneus ... he was different. He was completely immortal, impossible to kill by god or demigod, as long as he remained in his home territory—the place where he was born.”
Nico paused to let that sink in. “And if Alcyoneus has been reborn in Alaska—”
“Then he can’t be defeated there,” Hazel finished. “Ever. By any means. Which is why our nineteen-eighties expedition was doomed to fail.”
Another round of arguing and shouting broke out.
“The quest is impossible!” shouted a senator.
“We’re doomed!” cried a ghost.
“More Kool-Aid!” yelled Dakota.
“Silence!” Reyna called. “Senators, we must act like Romans. Mars has given us this quest, and we have to believe it is possible. These three demigods must travel to Alaska. They must free Thanatos and return before the Feast of Fortuna. If they can retrieve the lost eagle in the process, so much the better. All we can do is advise them and make sure they have a plan.”
Reyna looked at Percy without much hope. “You do have a plan?”
Percy wanted to step forward bravely and say, No, I don’t!
That was the truth, but looking around at all the nervous faces, Percy knew he couldn’t say it.
“First, I need to understand something.” He turned toward Nico. “I thought Pluto was the god of the dead. Now I hear about this other guy, Thanatos, and the Doors of Death from that prophecy—the Prophecy of Seven. What does all that mean?”
Nico took a deep breath. “Okay. Pluto is the god of the Underworld, but the actual god of death, the one who’s responsible for making sure souls go to the afterlife and stay there—that’s Pluto’s lieutenant, Thanatos. He’s like…well, imagine Life and Death are two different countries. Everybody would like to be in Life, right? So there’s a guarded border to keep people from crossing back over without permission. But it’s a big border, with lots of holes in the fence. Pluto tries to seal up the breaches, but new ones keep popping up all the time. That’s why he depends on Thanatos, who’s like the border patrol, the police.”
“Thanatos catches souls,” Percy said, “and deports them back to the Underworld.”
“Exactly,” Nico said. “But now Thanatos has been captured, chained up.”
Frank raised his hand. “Uh…how do you chain Death?”
“It’s been done before,” Nico said. “In the old days, a guy named Sisyphus tricked Death and tied him up. Another time, Hercules wrestled him to the ground.”
“And now a giant has captured him,” Percy said. “So if we could free Thanatos, then the dead would stay dead?” He glanced at Gwen. “Um…no offense.”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Nico said.
Octavian rolled his eyes. “Why does that not surprise me?”
“You mean the Doors of Death,” Reyna said, ignoring Octavian. “They are mentioned in the Prophecy of Seven, which sent the first expedition to Alaska—”
Cato the ghost snorted. “We all know how that turned out! We Lares remember!”
The other ghosts grumbled in agreement.
Nico put his finger to his lips. Suddenly all the Lares went silent. Some looked alarmed, like their mouths had been glued together. Percy wished he had that power over certain living people…like Octavian, for instance.
“Thanatos is only part of the solution,” Nico explained. “The Doors of Death…well, that’s a concept even I don’t completely understand. There are many ways into the Underworld—the River Styx, the Door of Orpheus—plussmaller escape routes that open up from time to time. With Thanatos imprisoned, all those exits will be easier to use. Sometimes it might work to our advantage and let a friendly soul come back—like Gwen here. More often, it will benefit evil souls and monsters, the sneaky ones who are looking to escape. Now, the Doors of Death—those are the personal doors of Thanatos, his fast lane between Life and Death. Only Thanatos is supposed to know where they are, and the location shifts over the ages. If I understand correctly, the Doors of Death have been forced open. Gaea’s minions have seized control of them—”
“Which means Gaea controls who can come back from the dead,” Percy guessed.
Nico nodded. “She can pick and choose who to let out—the worst monsters, the most evil souls. If we rescue Thanatos, that means at least he can catch souls again and send them below. Monsters will die when we kill them, like they used to, and we’ll get a little breathing room. But unless we’re able to retake the Doors of Death, our enemies won’t stay down for long. They’ll have an easy way back to the world of the living.”
“So we can catch them and deport them,” Percy summed up, “but they’ll just keep coming back across.”
“In a depressing nutshell, yes,” Nico said.
Frank scratched his head. “But Thanatos knows where the doors are, right? If we free him, he can retake them.”
“I don’t think so,” Nico said. “Not alone. He’s no match for Gaea. That would take a massive quest…an army of the best demigods.”
“Foes bear arms to the Doors of Death,” Reyna said. “That’s the Prophecy of Seven…” She looked at Percy, and for just a moment he could see how scared she was. She did a good job of hiding it, but Percy wondered if she’d had nightmares about Gaea too—if she’d seen visions of what would happen when the camp was invaded by monsters that couldn’t be killed. “If this begins the ancient prophecy, we don’t have resources to send an army to these Doors of Death and protect the camp. I can’t imagine even sparing seven demigods—”
“First things first.” Percy tried to sound confident, though he could feel the level of panic rising in the room. “I don’t know who the seven are, or what that old prophecy means, exactly. But first we have to free Thanatos. Mars told us we only needed three people for the quest to Alaska. Let’s concentrate on succeeding with that and getting back before the Feast of Fortuna. Then we can worry about the Doors of Death.”
“Yeah,” Frank said in a small voice. “That’s probably enough for one week.”
“So you do have a plan?” Octavian asked skeptically.
Percy looked at his teammates. “We go to Alaska as fast as possible...”
“And we improvise,” Hazel said.
“A lot,” Frank added.
Reyna studied them. She looked like she was mentally writing her own obituary.
“Very well,” she said. “Nothing remains except for us to vote what support we can give the quest—transportation, money, magic, weapons.”
“Praetor, if I may,” Octavian said.
“Oh, great,” Percy muttered. “Here it comes.”
“The camp is in grave danger,” Octavian said. “Two gods have warned us we will be attacked four days from now. We must not spread our resources too thin, especially by funding projects that have a slim chance of success.”
Octavian looked at the three of them with pity, as if to say, Poor little things. “Mars has clearly chosen the least likely candidates for this quest. Perhaps that is because he considers them the most expendable. Perhaps Mars is playing the long odds. Whatever the case, he wisely didn’t order a massive expedition, nor did he ask us to fund their adventure. I say we keep our resources here and defend the camp. This is where the battle will be lost or won. If these three succeed, wonderful! But they should do so by their own ingenuity.”
An uneasy murmur passed through the crowd. Frank jumped to his feet. Before he could start a fight, Percy said, “Fine! No problem. But at least give us transportation. Gaea is the earth goddess, right? Going overland, across the earth—I’m guessing we should avoid that. Plus, it’ll be too slow.”
Octavian laughed. “Would you like us to charter you an airplane?”
The idea made Percy nauseous. “No. Air travel…I have a feeling that would be bad, too. But a boat. Can you at least give us a boat?”
Hazel made a grunting sound. Percy glanced over. She shook her head and mouthed, Fine. I’m fine.
“A boat!” Octavian turned to the senators. “The son of Neptune wants a boat. Sea travel has never been the Roman way, but he isn’t much of a Roman!”
“Octavian,” Reyna said sternly, “a boat is little enough to ask. And providing no other aid seems very—”
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