Percy and Hazel climbed up to join him. As soon as Hazel saw what he was looking at, she inhaled sharply. “Percy, no light! Put up your sword!”
“Schist!” He touched the sword tip, and Riptide shrank back into a pen.
Down below them, an army was on the move.
The field dropped into a shallow ravine, where a country road wound north and south. On the opposite side of the road, grassy hills stretched to the horizon, empty of civilization except for one darkened convenience store at the top of the nearest rise.
The whole ravine was full of monsters—column after column marching south, so many and so close, Hazel was amazed they hadn’t heard her shouting.
She, Frank, and Percy crouched against the rock. They watched in disbelief as several dozen large, hairy humanoids passed by, dressed in tattered bits of armor and animal fur. The creatures had six arms each, three sprouting on either side, so they looked like cavemen evolved from insects.
“Gegenes,” Hazel whispered. “The Earthborn.”
“You’ve fought them before?” Percy asked.
She shook her head. “Just heard about them in monster class at camp.” She’d never liked monster class—reading Pliny the Elder and those other musty authors who described legendary monsters from the edges of the Roman Empire. Hazel believed in monsters, but some of the descriptions were so wild, she had thought they must be just ridiculous rumors.
Only now, a whole army of those rumors was marching by.
“The Earthborn fought the Argonauts,” she murmured. “And those things behind them—”
“Centaurs,” Percy said. “But…that’s not right. Centaurs are good guys.”
Frank made a choking sound. “That’s not what we were taught at camp. Centaurs are crazy, always getting drunk and killing heroes.”
Hazel watched as the horse-men cantered past. They were human from the waist up, palomino from the waist down. They were dressed in barbarian armor of hide and bronze, armed with spears and slings. At first, Hazel thought they were wearing Viking helmets. Then she realized they had actual horns jutting from their shaggy hair.
“Are they supposed to have bull’s horns?” she asked.
“Maybe they’re a special breed,” Frank said. “Let’s not ask them, okay?”
Percy gazed farther down the road and his face went slack. “My gods ... Cyclopes.”
Sure enough, lumbering after the centaurs was a battalion of one-eyed ogres, both male and female, each about ten feet tall, wearing armor cobbled out of junkyard metal. Six of the monsters were yoked like oxen, pulling a two-story-tall siege tower fitted with a giant scorpion ballista.
Percy pressed the sides of his head. “Cyclopes. Centaurs. This is wrong. All wrong.”
The monster army was enough to make anyone despair, but Hazel realized that something else was going on with Percy. He looked pale and sickly in the moonlight, as if his memories were trying to come back, scrambling his mind in the process.
She glanced at Frank. “We need to get him back to the boat. The sea will make him feel better.”
“No argument,” Frank said. “There are too many of them. The camp…we have to warn the camp.”
“They know,” Percy groaned. “Reyna knows.”
A lump formed in Hazel’s throat. There was no way the legion could fight so many. If they were only a few hundred miles north of Camp Jupiter, their quest was already doomed. They could never make it to Alaska and back in time.
“Come on,” she urged. “Let’s…”
Then she saw the giant.
When he appeared over the ridge, Hazel couldn’t quite believe her eyes. He was taller than the siege tower—thirty feet, at least—with scaly reptilian legs like a Komodo dragon from the waist down and green-blue armor from the waist up. His breastplate was shaped like rows of hungry monstrous faces, their mouths open as if demanding food. His face was human, but his hair was wild and green, like a mop of seaweed. As he turned his head from side to side, snakes dropped from his dreadlocks. Viper dandruff—gross.
He was armed with a massive trident and a weighted net.
Just the sight of those weapons made Hazel’s stomach clench. She’d faced that type of fighter in gladiator training many times. It was the trickiest, sneakiest, most evil combat style she knew. This giant was a supersize retiarius.
“Who is he?” Frank’s voice quivered. “That’s not—”
“Not Alcyoneus,” Hazel said weakly. “One of his brothers, I think. The one Terminus mentioned. The grain spirit mentioned him, too. That’s Polybotes.”
She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she could feel the giant’s aura of power even from here. She remembered that feeling from the Heart of the Earth as she had raised Alcyoneus—as if she were standing near a powerful magnet, and all the iron in her blood was being drawn toward it. This giant was another child of Gaea—a creature of the earth so malevolent and powerful, he radiated his own gravitational field.
Hazel knew they should leave. Their hiding place on top of the rock would be in plain sight to a creature that tall if he chose to look in their direction. But she sensed something important was about to happen. She and her friends crept a little farther down the schist and kept watching.
As the giant got close, a Cyclops woman broke ranks and ran back to speak with him. She was enormous, fat, and horribly ugly, wearing a chain-mail dress like a muumuu—but next to the giant she looked like a child.
She pointed to the closed-up convenience store on top of the nearest hill and muttered something about food. The giant snapped back an answer, as if he was annoyed. The female Cyclopes barked an order to her kindred, and three of them followed her up the hill.
When they were halfway to the store, a searing light turned night into day. Hazel was blinded. Below her, the enemy army dissolved into chaos, monsters screaming in pain and outrage. Hazel squinted. She felt like she’d just stepped out of a dark theater into a sunny afternoon.
“Too pretty!” the Cyclopes shrieked. “Burns our eye!”
The store on the hill was encased in a rainbow, closer and brighter than any Hazel had ever seen. The light was anchored at the store, shooting up into the heavens, bathing the countryside in a weird kaleidoscopic glow.
The lady Cyclops hefted her club and charged at the store. As she hit the rainbow, her whole body began to steam. She wailed in agony and dropped her club, retreating with multicolored blisters all over her arms and face.
“Horrible goddess!” she bellowed at the store. “Give us snacks!”
The other monsters went crazy, charging the convenience store, then running away as the rainbow light burned them. Some threw rocks, spears, swords, and even pieces of their armor, all of which burned up in flames of pretty colors.
Finally the giant leader seemed to realize that his troops were throwing away perfectly good equipment.
“Stop!” he roared.
With some difficulty, he managed to shout and push and pummel his troops into submission. When they’d quieted down, he approached the rainbow-shielded store himself and stalked around the borders of the light. “Goddess!” he shouted. “Come out and surrender!”
No answer from the store. The rainbow continued to shimmer.
The giant raised his trident and net. “I am Polybotes! Kneel before me so I may destroy you quickly.”
Apparently, no one in the store was impressed. A tiny dark object came sailing out the window and landed at the giant’s feet. Polybotes yelled, “Grenade!”
He covered his face. His troops hit the ground.
When the thing did not explode, Polybotes bent down cautiously and picked it up.
He roared in outrage. “A Ding Dong? You dare insult me with a Ding Dong?” He threw the cake back at the shop, and it vaporized in the light.
The monsters got to their feet. Several muttered hungrily, “Ding Dongs? Where Ding Dongs?”
“Let’s attack,” said the lady Cyclops. “I am hungry. My boys want snacks!”
“No!” Polybotes said. “We’re already late. Alcyoneus wants us at the camp in four days’ time. You Cyclopes move inexcusably slowly. We have no time for minor goddesses!”
He aimed that last comment at the store, but got no response.
The lady Cyclops growled. “The camp, yes. Vengeance! The orange and purple ones destroyed my home. Now Ma Gasket will destroy theirs! Do you hear me, Leo? Jason? Piper? I come to annihilate you!”
The other Cyclopes bellowed in approval. The rest of the monsters joined in.
Hazel’s whole body tingled. She glanced at her friends. “Jason,” she whispered. “She fought Jason. He might still be alive.”
Frank nodded. “Do those other names mean anything to you?”
Hazel shook her head. She didn’t know any Leo or Piper at camp. Percy still looked sickly and dazed. If the names meant anything to him, he didn’t show it.
Hazel pondered what the Cyclops had said: Orange and purple ones. Purple—obviously the color of Camp Jupiter. But orange…Percy had shown up in a tattered orange shirt. That couldn’t be a coincidence.
Below them, the army began to march south again, but the giant Polybotes stood to one side, frowning and sniffing the air.
“Sea god,” he muttered. To Hazel’s horror, he turned in their direction. “I smell sea god.”
Percy was shaking. Hazel put her hand on his shoulder and tried to press him flat against the rock.
The lady Cyclops Ma Gasket snarled. “Of course you smell sea god! The sea is right over there!”
“More than that,” Polybotes insisted. “I was born to destroy Neptune. I can sense…” He frowned, turning his head and shaking out a few more snakes.
“Do we march or sniff the air?” Ma Gasket scolded. “I don’t get Ding Dongs, you don’t get sea god!”
Polybotes growled. “Very well. March! March!” He took one last look at the rainbow-encased store, then raked his fingers through his hair. He brought out three snakes that seemed larger than the rest, with white markings around their necks. “A gift, goddess! My name, Polybotes, means ‘Many- to-Feed!’ Here are some hungry mouths for you. See if your store gets many customers with these sentries outside.”
He laughed wickedly and threw the snakes into the tall grass on the hillside.
Then he marched south, his massive Komodo legs shaking the earth. Gradually, the last column of monsters passed over the hills and disappeared into the night.
Once they were gone, the blinding rainbow shut off like a spotlight.
Hazel, Frank, and Percy were left alone in the dark, staring across the road at a closed-up convenience store.
“That was different,” Frank muttered.
Percy shuddered violently. Hazel knew he needed help, or rest, or something. Seeing that army seemed to have triggered some kind of memory, leaving him shell-shocked. They should get him back to the boat.
On the other hand, a huge stretch of grassland lay between them and the beach. Hazel got the feeling the karpoi wouldn’t stay away forever. She didn’t like the idea of the three of them making their way back to the boat in the middle of the night. And she couldn’t shake the dreadful feeling that if she hadn’t summoned that schist, she’d be a captive of the giant right now.
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