When Arion saw the horses, he stamped the ground in outrage.
Frank gripped his bow. “Yep, here’s the trap.”
THE GHOSTS FORMED RANKS AND ENCIRCLED the crossroads. There were about a hundred in all—not an entire legion, but more than a cohort. Some carried the tattered lightning bolt banners of the Twelfth Legion, Fifth Cohort—Michael
Varus’s doomed expedition from the 1980s. Others carried standards and insignia Hazel didn’t recognize, as if they’d died at different times, on different quests—maybe not even from Camp Jupiter.
Most were armed with Imperial gold weapons—more Imperial gold than the entire Twelfth Legion possessed. Hazel could feel the combined power of all that gold humming around her, even scarier than the crackling of the glacier. She wondered if she could use her power to control the weapons, maybe disarm the ghosts, but she was afraid to try. Imperial gold wasn’t just a precious metal. It was deadly to demigods and monsters. Trying to control that much at once would be like trying to control plutonium in a reactor. If she failed, she might wipe Hubbard Glacier off the map and kill her friends.
“Thanatos!” Hazel turned to the robed figure. “We’re here to rescue you. If you control these shades, tell them—”
Her voice faltered. The god’s hood fell away and his robes dropped off as he spread his wings, leaving him in only a sleeveless black tunic belted at the waist. He was the most beautiful man Hazel had ever seen.
His skin was the color of teakwood, dark and glistening like Queen Marie’s old séance table. His eyes were as honey gold as Hazel’s. He was lean and muscular, with a regal face and black hair flowing down his shoulders. His wings glimmered in shades of blue, black, and purple.
Hazel reminded herself to breathe.
Beautiful was the right word for Thanatos—not handsome, or hot, or anything like that. He was beautiful the way an angel is beautiful—timeless, perfect, remote.
“Oh,” she said in a small voice.
The god’s wrists were shackled in icy manacles, with chains that ran straight into the glacier floor. His feet were bare, shackled around the ankles and also chained.
“It’s Cupid,” Frank said.
“A really buff Cupid,” Percy agreed.
“You compliment me,” Thanatos said. His voice was as gorgeous as he was—deep and melodious. “I am frequently mistaken for the god of love. Death has more in common with Love than you might imagine. But I am Death. I assure you.”
Hazel didn’t doubt it. She felt as if she were made of ashes. Any second, she might crumble and be sucked into the vacuum. She doubted Thanatos even needed to touch her to kill her. He could simply tell her to die. She would keel over on the spot, her soul obeying that beautiful voice and those kind eyes.
“We’re—we’re here to save you,” she managed. “Where’s Alcyoneus?”
“Save me…?” Thanatos narrowed his eyes. “Do you understand what you are saying, Hazel Levesque? Do you understand what that will mean?”
Percy stepped forward. “We’re wasting time.”
He swung his sword at the god’s chains. Celestial bronze rang against the ice, but Riptide stuck to the chain like glue. Frost began creeping up the blade. Percy pulled frantically. Frank ran to help. Together, they just managed to yank Riptide free before the frost reached their hands.
“That won’t work,” Thanatos said simply. “As for the giant, he is close. These shades are not mine. They are his.”
Thanatos’s eyes scanned the ghost soldiers. They shifted uncomfortably, as if an arctic wind were rattling through their ranks.
“So how do we get you out?” Hazel demanded.
Thanatos turned his attention back to her. “Daughter of Pluto, child of my master, you of all people should not wish me released.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Hazel’s eyes stung, but she was done being afraid. She’d been a scared little girl seventy years ago. She’d lost her mother because she acted too late. Now she was a soldier of Rome. She wasn’t going to fail again. She wasn’t going to let down her friends.
“Listen, Death.” She drew her cavalry sword, and Arion reared in defiance. “I didn’t come back from the Underworld and travel thousands of miles to be told that I’m stupid for setting you free. If I die, I die. I’ll fight this whole army if I have to. Just tell us how to break your chains.”
Thanatos studied her for a heartbeat. “Interesting. You do understand that these shades were once demigods like you. They fought for Rome. They died without completing their heroic quests. Like you, they were sent to Asphodel. Now Gaea has promised them a second life if they fight for her today. Of course, if you release me and defeat them, they will have to return to the Underworld where they belong. For treason against the gods, they will face eternal punishment. They are not so different from you, Hazel Levesque. Are you sure you want to release me and damn these souls forever?”
Frank clenched his fists. “That’s not fair! Do you want to be freed or not?”
“Fair…” Death mused. “You’d be amazed how often I hear that word, Frank Zhang, and how meaningless it is. Is it fair that your life will burn so short and bright? Was it fair when I guided your mother to the Underworld?”
Frank staggered like he’d been punched.
“No,” Death said sadly. “Not fair. And yet it was her time. There is no fairness in Death. If you free me, I will do my duty. But of course these shades will try to stop you.”
“So if we let you go,” Percy summed up, “we get mobbed by a bunch of black vapor dudes with gold swords. Fine. How do we break those chains?”
Thanatos smiled. “Only the fire of life can melt the chains of death.”
“Without the riddles, please?” Percy asked.
Frank drew a shaky breath. “It isn’t a riddle.”
“Frank, no,” Hazel said weakly. “There’s got to be another way.”
Laughter boomed across the glacier. A rumbling voice said: “My friends. I’ve waited so long!”
Standing at the gates of the camp was Alcyoneus. He was even larger than the giant Polybotes they’d seen in California. He had metallic golden skin, armor made from platinum links, and an iron staff the size of a totem pole. His rust-red dragon legs pounded against the ice as he entered the camp. Precious stones glinted in his red braided hair.
Hazel had never seen him fully formed, but she knew him better than she knew her own parents. She had made him. For months, she had raised gold and gems from the earth to create this monster. She knew the diamonds he used for a heart. She knew the oil that ran in his veins instead of blood. More than anything, she wanted to destroy him.
The giant approached, grinning at her with his solid silver teeth.
“Ah, Hazel Levesque,” he said, “you cost me dearly! If not for you, I would have risen decades ago, and this world would already be Gaea’s. But no matter!”
He spread his hands, showing off the ranks of ghostly soldiers. “Welcome, Percy Jackson! Welcome, Frank Zhang! I am Alcyoneus, the bane of Pluto, the new master of Death. And this is your new legion.”
NO FAIRNESS IN DEATH. Those words kept ringing in Frank’s head.
The golden giant didn’t scare him. The army of shades didn’t scare him. But the thought of freeing Thanatos made Frank want to curl into the fetal position. This god had taken his mother.
Frank understood what he had to do to break those chains. Mars had warned him. He’d explained why he loved Emily Zhang so much: She always put her duty first, ahead of everything. Even her life.
Now it was Frank’s turn.
His mother’s sacrifice medal felt warm in his pocket. He finally understood his mother’s choice, saving her comrades at the cost of her own life. He got what Mars had been trying to tell him—Duty. Sacrifice. They mean something.
In Frank’s chest, a hard knot of anger and resentment—a lump of grief he’d been carrying since the funeral—finally began to dissolve. He understood why his mother never came home. Some things were worth dying for.
“Hazel.” He tried to keep his voice steady. “That package you’re keeping for me? I need it.”
Hazel glanced at him in dismay. Sitting on Arion, she looked like a queen, powerful and beautiful, her brown hair swept over her shoulders and a wreath of icy mist around her head. “Frank, no. There has to be another way.”
“Please. I—I know what I’m doing.”
Thanatos smiled and lifted his manacled wrists. “You’re right, Frank Zhang. Sacrifices must be made.”
Great. If Death approved of his plan, Frank was pretty sure he wasn’t going to like the results.
The giant Alcyoneus stepped forward, his reptilian feet shaking the ground. “What package do you speak of, Frank Zhang? Have you brought me a present?”
“Nothing for you, Golden Boy,” Frank said. “Except a whole lot of pain.”
The giant roared with laughter. “Spoken like a child of Mars! Too bad I have to kill you. And this one...my, my, I’ve been waiting to meet the famous Percy Jackson.”
The giant grinned. His silver teeth made his mouth look like a car grille.
“I’ve followed your progress, son of Neptune,” said Alcyoneus. “Your fight with Kronos? Well done. Gaea hates you above all others…except perhaps for that upstart Jason Grace. I’m sorry I can’t kill you right away, but my brother Polybotes wishes to keep you as a pet. He thinks it will be amusing when he destroys Neptune to have the god’s favorite son on a leash. After that, of course, Gaea has plans for you.”
“Yeah, flattering.” Percy raised Riptide. “But actually I’m the son of Poseidon. I’m from Camp Half-Blood.”
The ghosts stirred. Some drew swords and lifted shields. Alcyoneus raised his hand, gesturing for them to wait.
“Greek, Roman, it doesn’t matter,” the giant said easily. “We will crush both camps underfoot. You see, the Titans didn’t think big enough. They planned to destroy the godsin their new home of America. We giants know better! To kill a weed, you must pull up its roots. Even now, while my forces destroy your little Roman camp, my brother Porphyrionis preparing for the real battle in the ancient lands! We will destroy the gods at their source.”
The ghosts pounded their swords against their shields. The sound echoed across the mountains.
“The source?” Frank asked. “You mean Greece?”
Alcyoneus chuckled. “No need to worry about that, son of Mars. You won’t live long enough to see our ultimate victory.
I will replace Pluto as lord of the Underworld. I already have Death in my custody. With Hazel Levesque in my service, I will have all the riches under the earth as well!”
Hazel gripped her spatha. “I don’t do service.”
“Oh, but you gave me life!” Alcyoneus said. “True, we hoped to awaken Gaea during World War II. That would’ve been glorious. But really, the world is in almost as bad a shape now. Soon, your civilization will be wiped out. The Doors of Death will stand open. Those who serve us will never perish. Alive or dead, you three will join my army.”
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