Maybe if he just fell down the mountain…would he survive? He didn’t want to risk it—not without something to slow the fall, or a sled, or…
He looked at Stheno’s large silver platter of free samples.
“Reconsidering?” Stheno asked. “Very wise, dear. I added some gorgon’s blood to these, so your death will be quick and painless.”
Percy’s throat constricted. “You added your blood to the Cheese ’n’ Wieners?”
“Just a little.” Stheno smiled. “A tiny nick on my arm, but you’re sweet to be concerned. Blood from our right side can cure anything, you know, but blood from our left side is deadly—”
“You dimwit!” Euryale screeched. “You’re not supposed to tell him that! He won’t eat the wieners if you tell him they’re poisoned!”
Stheno looked stunned. “He won’t? But I said it would be quick and painless.”
“Never mind!” Euryale’s fingernails grew into claws. “We’ll kill him the hard way—just keep slashing until we find the weak spot. Once we defeat Percy Jackson, we’ll be more famous than Medusa! Our patron will reward us greatly!”
Percy gripped his sword. He’d have to time his move perfectly—a few seconds of confusion, grab the platter with his left hand...
Keep them talking, he thought.
“Before you slash me to bits,” he said, “who’s this patron you mentioned?”
Euryale sneered. “The goddess Gaea, of course! The one who brought us back from oblivion! You won’t live long enough to meet her, but your friends below will soon face her wrath. Even now, her armies are marching south. At the Feast of Fortune, she’ll awaken, and the demigods will be cut down like—like—”
“Like our low prices at Bargain Mart!” Stheno suggested.
“Gah!” Euryale stormed toward her sister. Percy took the opening. He grabbed Stheno’s platter, scattering poisoned Cheese ’n’ Wieners, and slashed Riptide across Euryale’s waist, cutting her in half.
He raised the platter, and Stheno found herself facing her own greasy reflection.
“Medusa!” she screamed.
Her sister Euryale had crumbled to dust, but she was already starting to re-form, like a snowman un-melting. “Stheno, you fool!” she gurgled as her half-made face rose from the mound of dust. “That’s just your own reflection! Get him!”
Percy slammed the metal tray on top of Stheno’s head, and she passed out cold.
He put the platter behind his butt, said a silent prayer to whatever Roman god oversaw stupid sledding tricks, and jumped off the side of the hill.
THE THING ABOUT PLUMMETING DOWNHILL at fifty miles an hour on a snack platter—if you realize it’s a bad idea when you’re halfway down, it’s too late.
Percy narrowly missed a tree, glanced off a boulder, and spun a three-sixty as he shot toward the highway. The stupid snack tray did not have power steering. He heard the gorgon sisters screaming and caught a glimpse of Euryale’s coral-snake hair at the top of the hill, but he didn’t have time to worry about it. The roof of the apartment building loomed below him like the prow of a battleship. Head-on collision in ten, nine, eight…
He managed to swivel sideways to avoid breaking his legs on impact. The snack platter skittered across the roof and sailed through the air. The platter went one way. Percy went the other.
As he fell toward the highway, a horrible scenario flashed through his mind: his body smashing against an SUV’s windshield, some annoyed commuter trying to push him off with the wipers. Stupid sixteen-year-old kid falling from the sky! I’m late!
Miraculously, a gust of wind blew him to one side—just enough to miss the highway and crash into a clump of bushes. It wasn’t a soft landing, but it was better than asphalt.
Percy groaned. He wanted to lie there and pass out, but he had to keep moving.
He struggled to his feet. His hands were scratched up, but no bones seemed to be broken. He still had his backpack. Somewhere on the sled ride he’d lost his sword, but Percy knew it would eventually reappear in his pocket in pen form. That was part of its magic.
He glanced up the hill. The gorgons were hard to miss, with their colorful snake hair and their bright green Bargain Mart vests. They were picking their way down the slope, going slower than Percy but with a lot more control. Those chicken feet must’ve been good for climbing. Percy figured he had maybe five minutes before they reached him.
Next to him, a tall chain-link fence separated the highway from a neighborhood of winding streets, cozy houses, and talleucalyptus trees. The fence was probably there to keep people from getting onto the highway and doing stupid things—like sledding into the fast lane on snack trays—but the chain-link was full of big holes. Percy could easily slip through into the neighborhood. Maybe he could find a car and drive west to the ocean. He didn’t like stealing cars, but over the past few weeks, in life-and-death situations, he’d “borrowed” several, including a police cruiser. He’d meant to return them, but they never seemed to last very long.
He glanced east. Just as he’d figured, a hundred yardsuphill the highway cut through the base of the cliff. Two tunnel entrances, one for each direction of traffic, stared down at him like eye sockets of a giant skull. In the middle, where the nose would have been, a cement wall jutted from the hillside, with a metal door like the entrance to a bunker.
It might have been a maintenance tunnel. That’s probably what mortals thought, if they noticed the door at all. But they couldn’t see through the Mist. Percy knew the door was more than that.
Two kids in armor flanked the entrance. They wore a bizarre mix of plumed Roman helmets, breastplates, scabbards, blue jeans, purple T-shirts, and white athletic shoes. The guard on the right looked like a girl, though it was hard to tell for sure with all the armor. The one on the left was a stocky guy with a bow and quiver on his back. Both kids held long wooden staffs with iron spear tips, like old-fashioned harpoons.
Percy’s internal radar was pinging like crazy. After so many horrible days, he’d finally reached his goal. His instincts told him that if he could make it inside that door, he might find safety for the first time since the wolves had sent him south.
So why did he feel such dread?
Farther up the hill, the gorgons were scrambling over the roof of the apartment complex. Three minutes away—maybe less.
Part of him wanted to run to the door in the hill. He’d have to cross to the median of the highway, but then it would be a short sprint. He could make it before the gorgons reached him.
Part of him wanted to head west to the ocean. That’s where he’d be safest. That’s where his power would be greatest. Those Roman guards at the door made him uneasy. Something inside him said: This isn’t my territory. This is dangerous.
“You’re right, of course,” said a voice next to him.
Percy jumped. At first he thought Beano had managed to sneak up on him again, but the old lady sitting in the bushes was even more repulsive than a gorgon. She looked like a hippie who’d been kicked to the side of the road maybe forty years ago, where she’d been collecting trash and rags ever since. She wore a dress made of tie-dyed cloth, ripped-up quilts, and plastic grocery bags. Her frizzy mop of hair was gray-brown, like root-beer foam, tied back with a peace-sign headband. Warts and moles covered her face. When she smiled, she showed exactly three teeth.
“It isn’t a maintenance tunnel,” she confided. “It’s the entrance to camp.”
A jolt went up Percy’s spine. Camp. Yes, that’s where he was from. A camp. Maybe this was his home. Maybe Annabeth was close by.
But something felt wrong.
The gorgons were still on the roof of the apartment building. Then Stheno shrieked in delight and pointed in Percy’s direction.
The old hippie lady raised her eyebrows. “Not much time, child. You need to make your choice.”
“Who are you?” Percy asked, though he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. The last thing he needed was another harmless mortal who turned out to be a monster.
“Oh, you can call me June.” The old lady’s eyes sparkled as if she’d made an excellent joke. “It is June, isn’t it? They named the month after me!”
“Okay…Look, I should go. Two gorgons are coming. I don’t want them to hurt you.”
June clasped her hands over her heart. “How sweet! But that’s part of your choice!”
“My choice…” Percy glanced nervously toward the hill. The gorgons had taken off their green vests. Wings sprouted from their backs—small bat wings, which glinted like brass.
Since when did they have wings? Maybe they were ornamental. Maybe they were too small to get a gorgon into the air. Then the two sisters leaped off the apartment building and soared toward him.
Great. Just great.
“Yes, a choice,” June said, as if she were in no hurry. “You could leave me here at the mercy of the gorgons and go to the ocean. You’d make it there safely, I guarantee. The gorgons will be quite happy to attack me and let you go. In the sea, no monster would bother you. You could begin a new life, live to a ripe old age, and escape a great deal of pain and misery that is in your future.”
Percy was pretty sure he wasn’t going to like the second option. “Or?”
“Or you could do a good deed for an old lady,” she said. “Carry me to the camp with you.”
“Carry you?” Percy hoped she was kidding. Then June hiked up her skirts and showed him her swollen purple feet.
“I can’t get there by myself,” she said. “Carry me to camp—across the highway, through the tunnel, across the river.”
Percy didn’t know what river she meant, but it didn’t sound easy. June looked pretty heavy.
The gorgons were only fifty yards away now—leisurely gliding toward him as if they knew the hunt was almost over.
Percy looked at the old lady. “And I’d carry you to this camp because—?”
“Because it’s a kindness!” she said. “And if you don’t, the gods will die, the world we know will perish, and everyone from your old life will be destroyed. Of course, you wouldn’t remember them, so I suppose it won’t matter. You’d be safe at the bottom of the sea.…”
Percy swallowed. The gorgons shrieked with laughter as they soared in for the kill.
“If I go to the camp,” he said, “will I get my memory back?”
“Eventually,” June said. “But be warned, you will sacrifice much! You’ll lose the mark of Achilles. You’ll feel pain, misery, and loss beyond anything you’ve ever known. But you might have a chance to save your old friends and family, to reclaim your old life.”
The gorgons were circling right overhead. They were probably studying the old woman, trying to figure out who the new player was before they struck.
“What about those guards at the door?” Percy asked.
June smiled. “Oh, they’ll let you in, dear. You can trust those two. So, what do you say? Will you help a defenseless old woman?”