Grover fell to his knees in front of the bed. ‘Lord Pan!’
The god smiled kindly, but there was sadness in his eyes. ‘Grover, my dear, brave satyr. I have waited a very long time for you.’
‘I … got lost,’ Grover apologized.
Pan laughed. It was a wonderful sound, like the first breeze of springtime, filling the whole cavern with hope. The tiger-wolf sighed and rested his head on the god’s knee. The dodo bird pecked affectionately at the god’s hooves, making a strange sound in the back of its bill. I could swear it was humming ‘It’s a Small World’.
Still, Pan looked tired. His whole form shimmered as if he were made of Mist.
I noticed my other friends were kneeling. They had awed looks on their faces. I got to my knees.
‘You have a humming dodo bird,’ I said stupidly.
The god’s eyes twinkled. ‘Yes, that’s Dede. My little actress.’
Dede the dodo looked offended. She pecked at Pan’s knee and hummed something that sounded like a funeral dirge.
‘This is the most beautiful place!’ Annabeth said. ‘It’s better than any building ever designed.’
‘I’m glad you like it, dear,’ Pan said. ‘It is one of the last wild places. My realm above is gone, I’m afraid. Only pockets remain. Tiny pieces of life. This one shall stay undisturbed … for a little longer.’
‘My lord,’ Grover said, ‘please, you must come back with me! The Elders will never believe it! They’ll be overjoyed! You can save the wild!’
Pan placed his hand on Grover’s head and ruffled his curly hair. ‘You are so young, Grover. So good and true. I think I chose well.’
‘Chose?’ Grover said. ‘I – I don’t understand.’
Pan’s image flickered, momentarily turning to smoke. The giant guinea pig scuttled under the bed with a terrified squeal. The woolly mammoth grunted nervously. Dede stuck her head under her wing. Then Pan re-formed.
‘I have slept many aeons,’ the god said forlornly. ‘My dreams have been dark. I wake fitfully, and each time my waking is shorter. Now we are near the end.’
‘What?’ Grover cried. ‘But no! You’re right here!’
‘My dear satyr,’ Pan said. ‘I tried to tell the world, two thousand years ago. I announced it to Lysas, a satyr very much like you. He lived in Ephesos, and he tried to spread the word.’
Annabeth’s eyes widened. ‘The old story. A sailor passing by the coast of Ephesos heard a voice crying from the shore, “Tell them the great god Pan is dead.”’
‘But that wasn’t true!’ Grover said.
‘Your kind never believed it,’ Pan said. ‘You sweet, stubborn satyrs refused to accept my passing. And I love you for that, but you only delayed the inevitable. You only prolonged my long, painful passing, my dark twilight sleep. It must end.’
‘No!’ Grover’s voice trembled.
‘Dear Grover,’ Pan said. ‘You must accept the truth. Your companion, Nico, he understands.’
Nico nodded slowly. ‘He’s dying. He should have died long ago. This … this is more like a memory.’
‘But gods can’t die,’ Grover said.
‘They can fade,’ Pan said, ‘when everything they stood for is gone. When they cease to have power, and their sacred places disappear. The wild, my dear Grover, is so small now, so shattered, that no god can save it. My realm is gone. That is why I need you to carry a message. You must go back to the council. You must tell the satyrs, and the dryads, and the other spirits of nature, that the great god Pan is dead. Tell them of my passing. Because they must stop waiting for me to save them. I cannot. The only salvation you must make yourself. Each of you must –’
He stopped and frowned at the dodo bird, who had started humming again.
‘Dede, what are you doing?’ Pan demanded. ‘Are you singing “Kumbaya” again?’
Dede looked up innocently and blinked her yellow eyes.
Pan sighed. ‘Everybody’s a cynic. But as I was saying, my dear Grover, each of you must take up my calling.’
‘But … no!’ Grover whimpered.
‘Be strong,’ Pan said. ‘You have found me. And now you must release me. You must carry on my spirit. It can no longer be carried by a god. It must be taken up by all of you.’
Pan looked straight at me with his clear blue eyes, and I realized he wasn’t just talking about the satyrs. He meant half-bloods, too, and humans. Everyone.
‘Percy Jackson,’ the god said. ‘I know what you have seen today. I know your doubts. But I give you this news: when the time comes, you will not be ruled by fear.’