Then I saw who was riding on his back, and I knew my day was about to get a lot more complicated.

‘’Sup, Percy.’

Charles Beckendorf, senior counsellor for the Hephaestus cabin, would make most monsters cry for their mommies. He was huge, with ripped muscles from working in the forges every summer. He was two years older than me, one of the camp’s best armour-smiths. He made some seriously ingenious mechanical stuff. A month before, he’d rigged a Greek firebomb in the bathroom of a tour bus that was carrying a bunch of monsters across country. The explosion took out a whole legion of Kronos’s evil meanies as soon as the first harpy went flush.

Beckendorf was dressed for combat. He wore a bronze breastplate and war helm with black camo pants and a sword strapped to his side. His explosives bag was slung over his shoulder.

‘Time?’ I asked.

He nodded grimly.

A lump formed in my throat. I’d known this was coming. We’d been planning it for weeks, but I’d half hoped it would never happen.

Rachel looked up at Beckendorf. ‘Hi.’

‘Oh, hey. I’m Beckendorf. You must be Rachel. Percy’s told me… uh, I mean he mentioned you.’

Rachel raised an eyebrow. ‘Really? Good.’ She glared at Blackjack, who was clopping his hooves against the hood of the Prius. ‘So I guess you guys have to go save the world now.’

‘Pretty much,’ Beckendorf agreed.

I looked at Rachel helplessly. ‘Would you tell my mom –’

‘I’ll tell her. I’m sure she’s used to it. And I’ll explain to Paul about the hood.’

I nodded my thanks. I figured this might be the last time Paul loaned me his car.

‘Good luck.’ Rachel kissed me before I could even react. ‘Now, get going, half-blood. Go kill some monsters for me.’

My last view of her was sitting in the shotgun seat of the Prius, her arms crossed, watching as Blackjack circled higher and higher, carrying Beckendorf and me into the sky. I wondered what Rachel wanted to talk to me about, and whether I’d live long enough to find out.

‘So,’ Beckendorf said. ‘I’m guessing you don’t want me to mention that little scene to Annabeth.’

‘Oh, gods,’ I muttered. ‘Don’t even think about it.’

Beckendorf chuckled, and together we soared out over the Atlantic.