‘Hey, you can’t blame yourself for that.’
‘You don’t know the worst of it. I – I don’t like to talk about my family. I didn’t want you to know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s cool. Look, Rachel, you were awesome. You led us through the maze. You were so brave. That’s the only thing I’m going to judge you on. I don’t care what your dad does.’
Rachel looked at me gratefully. ‘Well… if you ever feel like hanging out with a mortal again… you could call me or something.’
‘Uh, yeah. Sure.’
She knitted her eyebrows. I guess I sounded unenthusiastic or something, but that’s not how I meant it. I just wasn’t sure what to say with all my friends standing around. And I guess my feelings had got pretty mixed up, the last couple of days.
‘I mean… I’d like that,’ I said.
‘My number’s not in the book,’ she said.
‘I’ve got it.’
‘Still on your hand? No way.’
‘No. I kinda… memorized it.’
Her smile came back slowly, but a lot happier. ‘See you later, Percy Jackson. Go save the world for me, okay?’
She walked off down Seventh Avenue and disappeared into the crowds.
When I got back to the horses, Nico was having trouble. His pegasus kept shying away from him, reluctant to let him mount.
He smells like dead people! the pegasus complained.
Hey now, Blackjack said. Come on, Porkpie. Lotsa demigods smell weird. It ain’t their fault. Oh – uh, I didn’t mean you, boss.
‘Go without me!’ Nico said. ‘I don’t want to go back to that camp anyway.’
‘Nico,’ I said, ‘we need your help.’
He folded his arms and scowled. Then Annabeth put her hand on his shoulder.
‘Nico,’ she said. ‘Please.’
Slowly, his expression softened. ‘All right,’ he said reluctantly. ‘For you. But I’m not staying.’
I raised an eyebrow at Annabeth, like, How come all of a sudden Nico listens to you? She stuck her tongue out at me.
At last we got everybody on a pegasus. We shot into the air, and soon we were over the East River, with Long Island spread out before us.
We landed in the middle of the cabin area and were immediately met by Chiron, the potbellied satyr Silenus and a couple of Apollo cabin archers. Chiron raised an eyebrow when he saw Nico, but if I expected him to be surprised by our latest news about Quintus being Daedalus, or Kronos rising, I was mistaken.
‘I feared as much,’ Chiron said. ‘We must hurry. Hopefully you have slowed down the Titan lord, but his vanguard will still be coming through. They will be anxious for blood. Most of our defenders are already in place. Come!’
‘Wait a moment,’ Silenus demanded. ‘What of the search for Pan? You are almost three weeks overdue, Grover Underwood! Your searcher’s licence is revoked!’
Grover took a deep breath. He stood up straight and looked Silenus in the eye. ‘Searchers’ licences don’t matter any more. The great god Pan is dead. He has passed on and left us his spirit.’
‘What?’ Silenus’s face turned bright red. ‘Sacrilege and lies! Grover Underwood, I will have you exiled for speaking thus!’
‘It’s true,’ I said. ‘We were there when he died. All of us.’
‘Impossible! You are all liars! Nature-destroyers!’
Chiron studied Grover’s face. ‘We will speak of this later.’
‘We will speak of it now!’ Silenus said. ‘We must deal with this –’
‘Silenus,’ Chiron cut in. ‘My camp is under attack. The matter of Pan has waited two thousand years. I fear it will have to wait a bit longer. Assuming we are still here this evening.’
And on that happy note, he readied his bow and galloped towards the woods, leaving us to follow as best we could.
It was the biggest military operation I’d ever seen at camp. Everyone was at the clearing, dressed in full battle armour, but this time it wasn’t for capture the flag. The Hephaestus cabin had set up traps around the entrance to the Labyrinth – razor wire, pits filled with pots of Greek fire, rows of sharpened sticks to deflect a charge. Beckendorf was manning two catapults the size of pickup trucks, already primed and aimed at Zeus’s Fist. The Ares cabin was on the front line, drilling in phalanx formation with Clarisse calling orders. Apollo’s and Hermes’s cabins were scattered in the woods with bows ready. Many had taken up positions in the trees. Even the dryads were armed with bows, and the satyrs trotted around with wooden cudgels and shields made of rough tree bark.