THEY WERE, WITHOUT A DOUBT, the strangest reinforcements in Roman military history. Hazel rode Arion, who had recovered enough to carry one person at normal horse speed, though he cursed about his aching hooves all the way downhill.
Frank transformed into a bald eagle—which Percy still found totally unfair—and soared above them. Tyson ran down the hill, waving his club and yelling, “Bad pony-men! BOO!” while Ella fluttered around him, reciting facts from the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
As for Percy, he rode Mrs. O’Leary into battle with a chariot full of Imperial gold equipment clanking and clink ing behind, the golden eagle standard of the Twelfth Legion raised high above him.
They skirted the perimeter of the camp and took the northernmost bridge over the Little Tiber, charging onto the Field of Mars at the western edge of the battle. A horde of Cyclopes was hammering away at the campers of the Fifth Cohort, who were trying to keep their shields locked just to stay alive.
Seeing them in trouble, Percy felt a surge of protective rage. These were the kids who’d taken him in. This was his family.
He shouted, “Fifth Cohort!” and slammed into the nearest Cyclops. The last things the poor monster saw were Mrs. O’Leary’s teeth.
After the Cyclops disintegrated—and stayed disintegrated, thanks to Death—Percy leaped off his hellhound and slashed wildly through the other monsters.
Tyson charged at the Cyclops leader, Ma Gasket, her chain-mail dress spattered with mud and decorated with broken spears.
She gawked at Tyson and started to say, “Who—?”
Tyson hit her in the head so hard, she spun in a circle and landed on her rump.
“Bad Cyclops Lady!” he bellowed. “General Tyson says GO AWAY!”
He hit her again, and Ma Gasket broke into dust.
Meanwhile Hazel charged around on Arion, slicing her spatha through one Cyclops after another, while Frank blinded the enemies with his talons.
Once every Cyclops within fifty yards had been reduced to ashes, Frank landed in front of his troops and transformed into a human. His centurion’s badge and Mural Crown gleamed on his winter jacket.
“Fifth Cohort!” he bellowed. “Get your Imperial gold weapons right here!”
The campers recovered from their shock and mobbed the chariot. Percy did his best to hand out equipment quickly.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Dakota urged, grinning like a madman as he swigged red Kool-Aid from his flask. “Our comrades need help!”
Soon the Fifth Cohort was equipped with new weapons and shields and helmets. They weren’t exactly consistent. In fact they looked like they’d been shopping at a King Midas clearance sale. But they were suddenly the most powerful cohort in the legion.
“Follow the eagle!” Frank ordered. “To battle!”
The campers cheered. As Percy and Mrs. O’Leary charged onward, the entire cohort followed—forty extremely shiny gold-plated warriors screaming for blood.
They slammed into a herd of wild centaurs that were attacking the Third Cohort. When the campers of the Third saw the eagle standard, they shouted insanely and fought with renewed effort.
The centaurs didn’t stand a chance. The two cohorts crushed them like a vise. Soon there was nothing left but piles of dust and assorted hooves and horns. Percy hoped Chiron would forgive him, but these centaurs weren’t like the Party Ponies he’d met before. They were some other breed. They had to be defeated.
“Form ranks!” the centurions shouted. The two cohorts came together, their military training kicking in. Shields locked, they marched into battle against the Earthborn.
Frank shouted, “Pila!”
A hundred spears bristled. When Frank yelled, “Fire!” they sailed through the air—a wave of death cutting through the six-armed monsters. The campers drew swords and advanced toward the center of the battle.
At the base of the aqueduct, the First and Second Cohorts were trying to encircle Polybotes, but they were taking a pounding. The remaining Earthborn threw barrage after barrage of stone and mud. Karpoi grain spirits—those horrible little piranha Cupids—were rushing through the tall grass abducting campers at random, pulling them away from the line. The giant himself kept shaking basilisks out of his hair. Every time one landed, the Romans panicked and ran. Judging from their corroded shields and the smoking plumes on their helmets, they’d already learned about the basilisks’ poison and fire.
Reyna soared above the giant, diving in with her javelin whenever he turned his attention to the ground troops. Her purple cloak snapped in the wind. Her golden armor gleamed. Polybotes jabbed his trident and swung his weighted net, but Scipio was almost as nimble as Arion.
Then Reyna noticed the Fifth Cohort marching to their aid with the eagle. She was so stunned, the giant almost swatted her out of the air, but Scipio dodged. Reyna locked eyes with Percy and gave him a huge smile.
“Romans!” Her voice boomed across the fields. “Rally to the eagle!”
Demigods and monsters alike turned and gawked as Percy bounded forward on his hellhound.
“What is this?” Polybotes demanded. “What is this?”
Percy felt a rush of power coursing through the standard’s staff. He raised the eagle and shouted, “Twelfth Legion Fulminata!”
Thunder shook the valley. The eagle let loose a blinding flash, and a thousand tendrils of lightning exploded from its golden wings—arcing in front of Percy like the branches of an enormous deadly tree, connecting with the nearest monsters, leaping from one to another, completely ignoring the Roman forces.
When the lightning stopped, the First and Second
Cohorts were facing one surprised-looking giant and several hundred smoking piles of ash. The enemy’s center line had been charred to oblivion.
The look on Octavian’s face was priceless. The centurion stared at Percy with shock, then outrage. Then, when his own troops started to cheer, he had no choice except to join the shouting: “Rome! Rome!”
The giant Polybotes backed up uncertainly, but Percy knew the battle wasn’t over.
The Fourth Cohort was still surrounded by Cyclopes. Even Hannibal the elephant was having a hard time wading through so many monsters. His black Kevlar armor was ripped so that his label just said ant.
The veterans and Lares on the eastern flank were being pushed toward the city. The monsters’ siege tower was still hurling explosive green fireballs into the streets. The gorgons had disabled the giant eagles and now flew unchallenged over the giant’s remaining centaurs and the Earthborn, trying to rally them.
“Stand your ground!” Stheno yelled. “I’ve got free samples!”
Polybotes bellowed. A dozen fresh basilisks fell out of his hair, turning the grass to poison yellow. “You think this changes anything, Percy Jackson? I cannot be destroyed!Come forward, son of Neptune. I will break you!”
Percy dismounted. He handed Dakota the standard. “You are the cohort’s senior centurion. Take care of this.” Dakota blinked, then he straightened with pride. He dropped his Kool-Aid flask and took the eagle. “I will carry it with honor.”
“Frank, Hazel, Tyson,” Percy said, “help the Fourth Cohort. I’ve got a giant to kill.”
He raised Riptide, but before he could advance, horns blew in the northern hills. Another army appeared on the ridge—hundreds of warriors in black-and-gray camouflage, armed with spears and shields. Interspersed among their ranks were a dozen battle forklifts, their sharpened tines gleaming in the sunset and flaming bolts nocked in their crossbows.
“Amazons,” Frank said. “Great.”
Polybotes laughed. “You, see? Our reinforcements have arrived! Rome will fall today!”
The Amazons lowered their spears and charged down the hill. Their forklifts barreled into battle. The giant’s army cheered—until the Amazons changed course and headed straight for the monsters’ intact eastern flank.
“Amazons, forward!” On the largest forklift stood a girl who looked like an older version of Reyna, in black combat armor with a glittering gold belt around her waist.
“Queen Hylla!” said Hazel. “She survived!”
The Amazon queen shouted: “To my sister’s aid! Destroy the monsters!”
“Destroy!” Her troops’ cry echoed through the valley.
Reyna wheeled her pegasus toward Percy. Her eyes gleamed. Her expression said: I could hug you right now. She shouted, “Romans! Advance!”
The battlefield descended into absolute chaos. Amazon and Roman lines swung toward the enemy like the Doors of Death themselves.
But Percy had only one goal. He pointed at the giant.
“You. Me. To the finish.”
They met by the aqueduct, which had somehow survived the battle so far. Polybotes fixed that. He swiped his trident and smashed the nearest brick arch, unleashing a waterfall.
“Go on, then, son of Neptune!” Polybotes taunted. “Let me see your power! Does water do your bidding? Does it heal you? But I am born to oppose Neptune.”
The giant thrust his hand under the water. As the torrent passed through his fingers it turned dark green. He flung some at Percy, who instinctively deflected it with his will. The liquid splattered the ground in front of him. With a nasty hiss, the grass withered and smoked.
“My touch turns water to poison,” Polybotes said. “Let’s see what it does to your blood!”
He threw his net at Percy, but Percy rolled out of the way. He diverted the waterfall straight into the giant’s face. While Polybotes was blinded, Percy charged. He plunged Riptide into the giant’s belly then withdrew it and vaulted away, leaving the giant roaring in pain.
The strike would have dissolved any lesser monster, but Polybotes just staggered and looked down at the golden ichor —the blood of immortals—spilling from his wound. The cut was already closing.
“Good try, demigod,” he snarled. “But I will break you still.”
“Gotta catch me first,” Percy said.
He turned and bolted toward the city.
“What?” the giant yelled incredulously. “You run, coward? Stand still and die!”
Percy had no intention of doing that. He knew he couldn’t kill Polybotes alone. But he did have a plan.
He passed Mrs. O’Leary, who looked up curiously with a gorgon wriggling in her mouth.
“I’m fine!” Percy yelled as he ran by, followed by a giant screaming bloody murder.
He jumped over a burning scorpion and ducked as Hannibal threw a Cyclops across his path. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tyson pounding the Earthborn into the ground like a game of whack-a-mole. Ella was fluttering above him, dodging missiles and calling out advice: “The groin. The Earthborn’s groin is sensitive.”
“Good. Yes. Tyson found its groin.”
“Percy needs help?” Tyson called.
“Die!” Polybotes yelled, closing fast. Percy kept running.
In the distance, he saw Hazel and Arion galloping across the battlefield, cutting down centaurs and karpoi. One grain spirit yelled, “Wheat! I’ll give you wheat!” but Arion stomped him into a pile of breakfast cereal. Queen Hylla and Reyna joined forces, forklift and pegasus riding together, scattering the dark shades of fallen warriors. Frank turned himself into an elephant and stomped through some Cyclopes, and Dakota held the golden eagle high, blasting lightning at any monsters that dared to challenge the Fifth Cohort.
All that was great, but Percy needed a different kind of help. He needed a god.
He glanced back and saw the giant almost within arm’s reach. To buy some time, Percy ducked behind one of the aqueduct’s columns. The giant swung his trident. When the column crumbled, Percy used the unleashed water to guide the collapse—bringing down several tons of bricks on the giant’s head.
Percy bolted for the city limits.
“Terminus!” he yelled.
The nearest statue of the god was about sixty feet ahead. His stone eyes snapped open as Percy ran toward him.
“Completely unacceptable!” he complained. “Buildings on fire! Invaders! Get them out of here, Percy Jackson!”
“I’m trying,” he said. “But there’s this giant, Polybotes.”
“Yes, I know! Wait—Excuse me a moment.” Terminus closed his eyes in concentration. A flaming green cannonball sailed overhead and suddenly vaporized. “I can’t stop all the missiles,” Terminus complained. “Why can’t they be civilized and attack more slowly? I’m only one god.”
“Help me kill the giant,” Percy said, “and this will all be over. A god and demigod working together—that’s the only way to kill him.”
Terminus sniffed. “I guard borders. I don’t kill giants. It’s not in my job description.”
“Terminus, come on!” Percy took another step forward, and the god shrieked indignantly.
“Stop right there, young man! No weapons inside the Pomerian Line!”
“But we’re under attack.”
“I don’t care! Rules are rules. When people don’t follow the rules, I get very, very angry.”
Percy smiled. “Hold that thought.”
He sprinted back toward the giant. “Hey, ugly!”
“Rarrr!” Polybotes burst from the ruins of the aqueduct. The water was still pouring over him, turning to poison and creating a steaming marsh around his feet.
“You…you will die slowly,” the giant promised. He picked up his trident, now dripping with green venom.
All around them, the battle was winding down. As the last monsters were mopped up, Percy’s friends started gathering, forming a ring around the giant.
“I will take you prisoner, Percy Jackson,” Polybotes snarled. “I will torture you under the sea. Every day the water will heal you, and every day I will bring you closer to death.”
“Great offer,” Percy said. “But I think I’ll just kill you instead.”
Polybotes bellowed in rage. He shook his head, and more basilisks flew from his hair.
“Get back!” Frank warned.
Fresh chaos spread through the ranks. Hazel spurred Arion and put herself between the basilisks and the campers. Frank changed form—shrinking into something lean and furry…a weasel? Percy thought Frank had lost his mind, but when Frank charged the basilisks, they absolutely freaked out. They slithered away with Frank chasing after them in hot weasely pursuit.
Polybotes pointed his trident and ran toward Percy. As the giant reached the Pomerian Line, Percy jumped aside like a bullfighter. Polybotes barreled across the city limits.
“THAT’S IT!” Terminus cried. “That’s AGAINST THE RULES!”
Polybotes frowned, obviously confused that he was being told off by a statue. “What are you?” he growled. “Shut up!”
He pushed the statue over and turned back to Percy.
“Now I’m MAD!” Terminus shrieked. “I’m strangling you. Feel that? Those are my hands around your neck, you big bully. Get over here! I’m going to head-butt you so hard—”
“Enough!” The giant stepped on the statue and broke Terminus in three pieces—pedestal, body, and head.
“You DIDN’T!” shouted Terminus. “Percy Jackson, you’ve got yourself a deal! Let’s kill this upstart.”
The giant laughed so hard that he didn’t realize Percy was charging until it was too late. Percy jumped up, vaulting off the giant’s knee, and drove Riptide straight through one of the metal mouths on Polybotes’s breastplate, sinking the Celestial bronze hilt-deep in his chest. The giant stumbled backward, tripping over Terminus’s pedestal and crashing to the ground.
While he was trying to get up, clawing at the sword in his chest, Percy hefted the head of the statue.
“You’ll never win!” the giant groaned. “You cannot defeat me alone.”
“I’m not alone.” Percy raised the stone head above the giant’s face. “I’d like you to meet my friend Terminus. He’s a god!”
Too late, awareness and fear dawned in the giant’s face. Percy smashed the god’s head as hard as he could into the Polybotes’s nose, and the giant dissolved, crumbling into a steaming heap of seaweed, reptile skin, and poisonous muck.
Percy staggered away, completely exhausted.
“Ha!” said the head of Terminus. “That will teach him to obey the rules of Rome.”
For a moment, the battlefield was silent except for a few fires burning, and a few retreating monsters screaming in panic.
A ragged circle of Romans and Amazons stood around Percy. Tyson, Ella, and Mrs. O’Leary were there. Frank and Hazel were grinning at him with pride. Arion was nibbling contentedly on a golden shield.
The Romans began to chant, “Percy! Percy!”
They mobbed him. Before he knew it, they were raising him on a shield. The cry changed to, “Praetor! Praetor!”
Among the chanters was Reyna herself, who held up her hand and grasped Percy’s in congratulation. Then the mob of cheering Romans carried him around the Pomerian Line, carefully avoiding Terminus’s borders, and escorted him back home to Camp Jupiter.