XLVII

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[KYRA]

CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN WHEN THE EARTH was trying to swallow your feet was like jogging on a flypaper treadmill

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CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN WHEN THE EARTH was trying to swallow your feet was like jogging on a flypaper treadmill.

They were quick to shed their jackets, Kyra tying her flannel around her waist and was grateful that her boots were comfortable. Leo had rolled up the sleeves on his collarless shirt, even though the wind was cold and sharp. Kyra wished Aphrodite had given her a pair of sunglasses like Leo was given. Piper seemed to struggle the most with her dress whipping around her legs, tangling her up.

By the time they neared the crest of the mountain, they were the most fashionably dressed sweaty, dirty heroes ever. But every time Kyra thought they'd reached the summit, it turned out to be just another ridge with an even higher one behind it.

Finally, Jason crouched behind a wall of rock. He gestured for the others to do the same. Kyra and Leo crawled up next to him. Piper had to pull Coach Hedge down, "I don't want to get my outfit dirty!" Hedge complained.

"Shhh!" Piper hissed. Reluctantly, the satyr knelt.

Just over the ridge where they were hiding, in the shadow of the mountain's final crest, was a forested depression about the size of a football field, where the giant Enceladus had set up camp.

Trees had been cut down to make a towering purple bonfire. The outer rim of the clearing was littered with extra logs and construction equipment—an earthmover; a big crane thing with rotating blades at the end like an electric shaver—must be a tree harvester, Kyra thought—and a long metal column with an ax blade, like a sideways guillotine—a hydraulic ax.

Why a giant needed construction equipment, Kyra wasn't sure. She didn't see how the creature in front of her could even fit in the driver's seat. The giant Enceladus was so large, so horrible, Kyra didn't want to look at him.

But she forced herself to focus on the monster.

To start with, he was thirty feet tall—easily as tall as the treetops. Kyra was sure the giant could've seen them behind their ridge, but he seemed intent on the weird purple bonfire, circling it and chanting under his breath. From the waist up, the giant appeared humanoid, his muscular chest clad in bronze armor, decorated with flame designs. His arms were completely ripped. Each of his biceps was bigger than Kyra. His skin was bronze but sooty with ash. His face was crudely shaped, like a half-finished clay figure, but his eyes glowed white, and his hair was matted in shaggy dreadlocks down to his shoulders, braided with bones.

From the waist down, he was even more terrifying. His legs were scaly green, with claws instead of feet—like the forelegs of a dragon. In his hand, Enceladus held a spear the size of a flagpole. Every so often he dipped its tip in the fire, turning the metal molten red.

"Okay," Coach Hedge whispered. "Here's the plan—"

Leo elbowed him. "You're not charging him alone!"

"Aw, c'mon." Hedge huffed,

Piper choked back a sob. "Look."

Just visible on the other side of the bonfire was a man tied to a post. His head slumped like he was unconscious, so Kyra couldn't make out his face, but Piper didn't seem to have any doubts, "Dad," she whispered,

Kyra swallowed. She wished this were a Tristan McLean movie. Then Piper's dad would be faking unconsciousness. He'd untie his bonds and knock out the giant with some cleverly hidden anti-giant gas. Heroic music would start to play, and Tristan McLean would make his amazing escape, running away in slow motion while the mountainside exploded behind him.

But this wasn't a movie. Tristan McLean was half dead and about to be eaten. The only people who could stop it—four fashionably dressed teenaged demigods and a megalomaniac goat.

"There's four of us," Hedge whispered urgently. "And only one of him."

"Did you miss the fact that he's thirty feet tall?" Leo asked.

"Okay," Hedge replied, "So you, me, Kyra, and Jason distract him. Piper sneaks around and frees her dad."

They all looked at Jason. "What?" Jason asked. "I'm not the leader."

"Yes," Kyra responded, "You are."

They'd never really talked about it, but no one disagreed, not even Hedge. Coming this far had been a team effort, but when it came to a life-and-death decision, Kyra knew Jason was the one to ask. Even if he had no memory, Jason had a kind of balance to him. You could just tell he'd been in battles before, and he knew how to keep his cool. She trusted him with her life. She'd follow him to the end of the Earth and back.

"I hate to say it," Jason sighed, "but Coach Hedge is right. A distraction is Piper's best chance."

Not a good chance, Kyra thought. Not even a survivable chance. Just their best chance.

They couldn't sit there all day and talk about it, though. It had to be close to noon—the giant's deadline—and the ground was still trying to pull them down. Kyra's knees had already sunk two inches into the dirt.

Kyra saw Leo pull something out of his pocket and had a wild look in his eyes, "Let's boogie," he said. "Before I come to my senses."

The daughter of Apollo reached for her charms and they grew until they were the correct size. Jason looked at her and she nodded back, ready to fight.


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