Along the way, I noticed a lot of empty pedestals that usually held statues. Plan twenty-three seemed to be working. I didn't know if that was good or bad.
It only took us five minutes to reach the Plaza—an old-fashioned white stone hotel with a gabled blue roof, sitting at the southeast corner of Central Park.
Tactically speaking, the Plaza wasn't the best place for a headquarters. It wasn't the tallest building in town, or the most centrally located. But it had old-school style and had attracted a lot of famous demigods over the years, like the Beatles and Alfred Hitchcock, so I figured we were in good company.
I gunned the Yamaha over the curb and swerved to a stop at the fountain outside the hotel.
Will and I hopped off. The statue at the top of the fountain called down, "Oh, fine. I suppose you want me to watch your bike too!"
She was a life-size bronze standing in the middle of a granite bowl. She wore only a bronze sheet around her legs, and she was holding a basket of metal fruit. I'd never paid her too much attention before. Then again, she'd never talked to me before.
"Are you supposed to be Demeter?" I asked.
A bronze apple sailed over my head.
"Everyone thinks I'm Demeter.'" she complained. "I'm Pompona, the Roman Goddess of Plenty, but why should you care? Nobody cares about the minor gods. If you cared about the minor gods, you wouldn't be losing this war! Three cheers for Morpheus and Hecate, I say!"
"Watch the bike," I told her.
Pompona cursed in Latin and threw more fruit as Will and I ran toward the hotel.
I'd never actually been inside the Plaza. The lobby was impressive, with the crystal chandeliers and the passed-out rich people, but I didn't pay much attention. A couple of Hunters gave us directions to the elevators, and we rode up to the penthouse suites.
Demigods had completely taken over the top floors. Campers and Hunters were crashed out on sofas, washing up in the bathrooms, ripping silk draperies to bandage their wounds, and helping themselves to snacks and sodas from the minibars. A couple of timber wolves were drinking out of the toilets. I was relieved to see that so many of my friends had made it through the night alive, but everybody looked beat up.
"Percy!" Jake Mason clapped me on the shoulder. "We're getting reports—"
"Later," I said. "Where's Annabeth?"
"The terrace. She's alive, man, but . . ."
I pushed past him.
Under different circumstances I would've loved the view from the terrace. It looked straight down onto Central Park. The morning was clear and bright—perfect for a picnic or a hike, or pretty much anything except fighting monsters.
Annabeth lay on a lounge chair. Her face was pale and beaded with sweat. Even though she was covered in blankets, she shivered. Silena Beauregard was wiping her forehead with a cool cloth.
Will and I pushed through a crowd of Athena kids. Will unwrapped Annabeth's bandages to examine the wound, and I wanted to faint. The bleeding had stopped but the gash looked deep. The skin around the cut was a horrible shade of green.
"Annabeth . . ." I choked up. She'd taken that knife for me. How could I have let that happen?
"Poison on the dagger," she mumbled. "Pretty stupid of me, huh?"
Will Solace exhaled with relief. "It's not so bad, Annabeth. A few more minutes and we would've been in trouble, but the venom hasn't gotten past the shoulder yet. Just lie still. Somebody hand me some nectar."
I grabbed a canteen. Will cleaned out the wound with the godly drink while I held Annabeth's hand.
"Ow," she said. "Ow, ow!" She gripped my fingers so tight they turned purple, but she stayed still, like Will asked. Silena muttered words of encouragement. Will put some silver paste over the wound and hummed words in Ancient Greek—a hymn to Apollo. Then he applied fresh bandages and stood up shakily.
The healing must've taken a lot of his energy. He looked almost as pale as Annabeth.
"That should do it," he said. "But we're going to need some mortal supplies."
He grabbed a piece of hotel stationery, jotted down some notes, and handed it to one of the Athena guys. "There's a Duane Reade on Fifth. Normally I would never steal—"
"I would," Travis volunteered.
Will glared at him. "Leave cash or drachmas to pay, whatever you've got, but this is an emergency. I've got a feeling we're going to have a lot more people to treat."
Nobody disagreed. There was hardly a single demigod who hadn't already been wounded . . . except me.
"Come on, guys," Travis Stoll said. "Let's give Annabeth some space. We've got a drugstore to raid . . . I mean, visit."
The demigods shuffled back inside. Jake Mason grabbed my shoulder as he was leaving. "We'll talk later, but it's under control. I'm using Annabeth's shield to keep an eye on things. The enemy withdrew at sunrise; not sure why. We've got a lookout at each bridge and tunnel."
"Thanks, man," I said.
He nodded. "Just take your time."
He closed the terrace doors behind him, leaving Silena, Annabeth, and me alone.
Silena pressed a cool cloth to Annabeth's forehead. "This is all my fault."
"No," Annabeth said weakly. "Silena, how is it your fault?"
"I've never been any good at camp," she murmured. "Not like you or Percy. If I was a better fighter . . ."
Her mouth trembled. Ever since Beckendorf died she'd been getting worse, and every time I looked at her, it made me angry about his death all over again. Her expression reminded me of glass—like she might break any minute. I swore to myself that if I ever found the spy who'd cost her boyfriend his life, I would give him to Mrs. O'Leary as a chew toy.
"You're a great camper," I told Silena. "You're the best pegasus rider we have. And you get along with people. Believe me, anyone who can make friends with Clarisse has talent."
She stared at me like I'd just given her an idea. "That's it! We need the Ares cabin. I can talk to Clarisse. I know I can convince her to help us."
"Whoa, Silena. Even if you could get off the island, Clarisse is pretty stubborn. Once she gets angry—"
"Please," Silena said. "I can take a pegasus. I know I can make it back to camp. Let me try."
I exchanged looks with Annabeth. She nodded slightly.
I didn't like the idea. I didn't think Silena stood a chance of convincing Clarisse to fight. On the other hand, Silena was so distracted right now that she would just get herself hurt in battle. Maybe sending her back to camp would give her something else to focus on.
"All right," I told her. "I can't think of anybody better to try."
Silena threw her arms around me. Then she pushed back awkwardly, glancing at Annabeth. "Um, sorry. Thank you, Percy! I won't let you down!"
Once she was gone, I knelt next to Annabeth and felt her forehead. She was still burning up.
"You're cute when you're worried," she muttered. "Your eyebrows get all scrunched together."
"You are not going to die while I owe you a favor," I said. "Why did you take that knife?"
"You would've done the same for me."
It was true. I guess we both knew it. Still, I felt like somebody was poking my heart with a cold metal rod. "How did you know?"
I looked around to make sure we were alone. Then I leaned in close and whispered: "My Achilles spot. If you hadn't taken that knife, I would've died."
She got a faraway look in her eyes. Her breath smelled of grapes, maybe from the nectar. "I don't know, Percy. I just had this feeling you were in danger. Where . . . where is the spot?"
I wasn't supposed to tell anyone. But this was Annabeth. If I couldn't trust her, I couldn't trust anyone.
"The small of my back."
She lifted her hand. "Where? Here?"
She put her hand on my spine, and my skin tingled. I moved her fingers to the one spot that grounded me to my mortal life. A thousand volts of electricity seemed to arc through my body.
"You saved me," I said. "Thanks."
She removed her hand, but I kept holding it.
"So you owe me," she said weakly. "What else is new?"
We watched the sun come up over the city. The traffic should've been heavy by now, but there were no cars honking, no crowds bustling along the sidewalks.
Far away, I could hear a car alarm echo through the streets. A plume of black smoke curled into the sky somewhere over Harlem. I wondered how many ovens had been left on when the Morpheus spell hit; how many people had fallen asleep in the middle of cooking dinner. Pretty soon there would be more fires. Everyone in New York was in danger—and all those lives depended on us.
"You asked me why Hermes was mad at me," Annabeth said.
"Hey, you need to rest—"
"No, I want to tell you. It's been bothering me for a long time." She moved her shoulder and winced. "Last year, Luke came to see me in San Francisco."
"In person?" I felt like she'd just hit me with a hammer. "He came to your house?"
"This was before we went into the Labyrinth, before . . ." She faltered, but I knew what she meant: before be turned into Kronos. "He came under a flag of truce. He said he only wanted five minutes to talk. He looked scared, Percy. He told me Kronos was going to use him to take over the world. He said he wanted to run away, like the old days. He wanted me to come with him."
"But you didn't trust him."
"Of course not. I thought it was a trick. Plus . . . well, a lot of things had changed since the old days. I told Luke there was no way. He got mad. He said . . . he said I might as well fight him right there, because it was the last chance I'd get."
Her forehead broke out in sweat again. The story was taking too much of her energy.
"It's okay," I said. "Try to get some rest."
"You don't understand, Percy. Hermes was right. Maybe if I'd gone with him, I could've changed his mind. Or—or I had a knife. Luke was unarmed. I could've—"
"Killed him?" I said. "You know that wouldn't have been right."
She squeezed her eyes shut. "Luke said Kronos would use him like a stepping stone. Those were his exact words. Kronos would use Luke, and become even more powerful."
"He did that," I said. "He possessed Luke's body."
"But what if Luke's body is only a transition? What if Kronos has a plan to become even more powerful? I could've stopped him. The war is my fault."
Her story made me feel like I was back in the Styx, slowly dissolving. I remembered last summer, when the two-headed god, Janus, had warned Annabeth she would have to make a major choice—and that had happened after she saw Luke. Pan had also said something to her: You will play a great role, though it may not be the role you imagined.
I wanted to ask her about the vision Hestia had shown me, about her early days with Luke and Thalia. I knew it had something to do with my prophecy, but I didn't understand what.
Before I could get up my nerve, the terrace door opened. Connor Stoll stepped through.
"Percy." He glanced at Annabeth like he didn't want to say anything bad in front of her, but I could tell he wasn't bringing good news. "Mrs. O'Leary just came back with Grover. I think you should talk to him."