The house of hades, p.10
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       The House of Hades, p.10

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 10


  The brown-furred dwarf jumped onto the projectile like it was a skateboard, and his friend shot him into the sky.

  Red Fur pranced over to Coach Hedge. He gave the satyr a big smack on the cheek, then skipped to the rail. He bowed to Leo, doffing his zebra cowboy hat, and did a backflip over the side.

  Leo managed to get up. Jason was already on his feet, stumbling and running into things. Frank had turned into a silverback gorilla (why, Leo wasn’t sure; maybe to commune with the monkey dwarfs?) but the flash grenade had hit him hard. He was sprawled on the deck with his tongue hanging out and his gorilla eyes rolled up in his head.

  “Piper!” Jason staggered to the helm and carefully pulled the gag out of her mouth.

  “Don’t waste your time on me!” she said. “Go after them!”

  At the mast, Coach Hedge mumbled, “HHHmmmmm-hmmm!”

  Leo figured that meant: “KILL THEM!” Easy translation, since most of the coach’s sentences involved the word kill.

  Leo glanced at the control console. His Archimedes sphere was gone. He put his hand to his waist, where his tool belt should have been. His head started to clear, and his sense of outrage came to a boil. Those dwarfs had attacked his ship. They’d stolen his most precious possessions.

  Below him spread the city of Bologna—a jigsaw puzzle of red-tiled buildings in a valley hemmed by green hills. Unless Leo could find the dwarfs somewhere in that maze of streets…Nope. Failure wasn’t an option. Neither was waiting for his friends to recover.

  He turned to Jason. “You feeling good enough to control the winds? I need a lift. ”

  Jason frowned. “Sure, but—”

  “Good,” Leo said. “We’ve got some monkey dudes to catch. ”

  Jason and Leo touched down in a big piazza lined with white marble government buildings and outdoor cafés. Bikes and Vespas clogged the surrounding streets, but the square itself was empty except for pigeons and a few old men drinking espresso.

  None of the locals seemed to notice the huge Greek warship hovering over the piazza, or the fact that Jason and Leo had just flown down, Jason wielding a gold sword, and Leo…well, Leo pretty much empty-handed.

  “Where to?” Jason asked.

  Leo stared at him. “Well, I dunno. Let me pull my dwarf-tracking GPS out of my tool belt. … Oh, wait! I don’t have a dwarf-tracking GPS—or my tool belt!”

  “Fine,” Jason grumbled. He glanced up at the ship as if to get his bearings, then pointed across the piazza. “The ballista fired the first dwarf in that direction, I think. Come on. ”

  They waded through a lake of pigeons, then maneuvered down a side street of clothing stores and gelato shops. The sidewalks were lined with white columns covered in graffiti. A few panhandlers asked for change (Leo didn’t know Italian, but he got the message loud and clear).

  He kept patting his waist, hoping his tool belt would magically reappear. It didn’t. He tried not to freak, but he’d come to depend on that belt for almost everything. He felt like somebody had stolen one of his hands.

  “We’ll find it,” Jason promised.

  Usually, Leo would have felt reassured. Jason had a talent for staying levelheaded in a crisis, and he’d gotten Leo out of plenty of bad scrapes. Today, though, all Leo could think about was the stupid fortune cookie he had opened in Rome. The goddess Nemesis had promised him help, and he’d gotten it: the code to activate the Archimedes sphere. At the time, Leo had had no choice but to use it if he wanted to save his friends—but Nemesis had warned that her help came with a price.

  Leo wondered if that price would ever be paid. Percy and Annabeth were gone. The ship was hundreds of miles off course, heading toward an impossible challenge. Leo’s friends were counting on him to beat a terrifying giant. And now he didn’t even have his tool belt or his Archimedes sphere.

  He was so absorbed with feeling sorry for himself that he didn’t notice where they were until Jason grabbed his arm. “Check it out. ”

  Leo looked up. They’d arrived in a smaller piazza. Looming over them was a huge bronze statue of a buck-naked Neptune.

  “Ah, jeez. ” Leo averted his eyes. He really didn’t need to see a godly groin this early in the morning.

  The sea god stood on a big marble column in the middle of a fountain that wasn’t working (which seemed kind of ironic). On either side of Neptune, little winged Cupid dudes were sitting, kind of chillin’, like, What’s up? Neptune himself (avoid the groin) was throwing his hip to one side in an Elvis Presley move. He gripped his trident loosely in his right hand and stretched his left hand out like he was blessing Leo, or possibly attempting to levitate him.

  “Some kind of clue?” Leo wondered.

  Jason frowned. “Maybe, maybe not. There are statues of the gods all over the place in Italy. I’d just feel better if we ran across Jupiter. Or Minerva. Anybody but Neptune, really. ”

  Leo climbed into the dry fountain. He put his hand on the statue’s pedestal, and a rush of impressions surged through his fingertips. He sensed Celestial bronze gears, magical levers, springs, and pistons.

  “It’s mechanical,” he said. “Maybe a doorway to the dwarfs’ secret lair?”

  “Ooooo!” shrieked a nearby voice. “Secret lair?”

  “I want a secret lair!” yelled another voice from above.

  Jason stepped back, his sword ready. Leo almost got whiplash trying to look in two places at once. The red-furred dwarf in the cowboy hat was sitting about thirty feet away at the nearest café table, sipping an espresso held by his monkey-like foot. The brown-furred dwarf in the green bowler was perched on the marble pedestal at Neptune’s feet, just above Leo’s head.

  “If we had a secret lair,” said Red Fur, “I would want a firehouse pole. ”

  “And a waterslide!” said Brown Fur, who was pulling random tools out of Leo’s belt, tossing aside wrenches, hammers, and staple guns.

  “Stop that!” Leo tried to grab the dwarf’s feet, but he couldn’t reach the top of the pedestal.

  “Too short?” Brown Fur sympathized.

  “You’re calling me short?” Leo looked around for something to throw, but there was nothing but pigeons, and he doubted he could catch one. “Give me my belt, you stupid—”

  “Now, now!” said Brown Fur. “We haven’t even introduced ourselves. I’m Akmon. And my brother over there—”

  “—is the handsome one!” The red-furred dwarf lifted his espresso. Judging from his dilated eyes and his maniacal grin, he didn’t need any more caffeine. “Passalos! Singer of songs! Drinker of coffee! Stealer of shiny stuff!”

  “Please!” shrieked his brother, Akmon. “I steal much better than you. ”

  Passalos snorted. “Stealing naps, maybe!” He took out a knife—Piper’s knife—and started picking his teeth with it.

  “Hey!” Jason yelled. “That’s my girlfriend’s knife!”

  He lunged at Passalos, but the red-furred dwarf was too quick. He sprang from his chair, bounced off Jason’s head, did a flip, and landed next to Leo, his hairy arms around Leo’s waist.

  “Save me?” the dwarf pleaded.

  “Get off!” Leo tried to shove him away, but Passalos did a backward somersault and landed out of reach. Leo’s pants promptly fell around his knees.

  He stared at Passalos, who was now grinning and holding a small zigzaggy strip of metal. Somehow, the dwarf had stolen the zipper right off Leo’s pants.

  “Give—stupid—zipper!” Leo stuttered, trying to shake his fist and hoist up his pants at the same time.

  “Eh, not shiny enough. ” Passalos tossed it away.

  Jason lunged with his sword. Passalos launched himself straight up and was suddenly sitting on the statue’s pedestal next to his brother.

  “Tell me I don’t have moves,” Passalos boasted.

  “Okay,” Akmon said. “You don’t have moves. ”

  “Bah!” Passalos said. “Give me the tool belt. I want to see.

  “No!” Akmon elbowed him away. “You got the knife and the shiny ball. ”

  “Yes, the shiny ball is nice. ” Passalos took off his cowboy hat. Like a magician producing a rabbit, he pulled out the Archimedes sphere and began tinkering with the ancient bronze dials.

  “Stop!” Leo yelled. “That’s a delicate machine. ”

  Jason came to his side and glared up at the dwarfs. “Who are you two, anyway?”

  “The Kerkopes!” Akmon narrowed his eyes at Jason. “I bet you’re a son of Jupiter, eh? I can always tell. ”

  “Just like Black Bottom,” Passalos agreed.

  “Black Bottom?” Leo resisted the urge to jump at the dwarfs’ feet again. He was sure Passalos was going to ruin the Archimedes sphere any second now.

  “Yes, you know. ” Akmon grinned. “Hercules. We called him Black Bottom because he used to go around without clothes. He got so tan that his backside, well—”

  “At least he had a sense of humor!” Passalos said. “He was going to kill us when we stole from him, but he let us go because he liked our jokes. Not like you two. Grumpy, grumpy!”

  “Hey, I’ve got a sense of humor,” Leo snarled. “Give me back our stuff, and I’ll tell you a joke with a good punch line. ”

  “Nice try!” Akmon pulled a ratchet wrench from the tool belt and spun it like a noisemaker. “Oh, very nice! I’m definitely keeping this! Thanks, Blue Bottom!”

  Blue Bottom?

  Leo glanced down. His pants had slipped around his ankles again, revealing his blue undershorts. “That’s it!” he shouted. “My stuff. Now. Or I’ll show you how funny a flaming dwarf is. ”

  His hands caught fire.

  “Now we’re talking. ” Jason thrust his sword into the sky. Dark clouds began to gather over the piazza. Thunder boomed.

  “Oh, scary!” Akmon shrieked.

  “Yes,” Passalos agreed. “If only we had a secret lair to hide in. ”

  “Alas, this statue isn’t the doorway to a secret lair,” Akmon said. “It has a different purpose. ”

  Leo’s gut twisted. The fires died in his hands, and he realized something was very wrong. He yelled, “Trap!” and dove out of the fountain. Unfortunately, Jason was too busy summoning his storm.

  Leo rolled on his back as five golden cords shot from the Neptune statue’s fingers. One barely missed Leo’s feet. The rest homed in on Jason, wrapping him like a rodeo calf and yanking him upside down.

  A bolt of lightning blasted the tines of Neptune’s trident, sending arcs of electricity up and down the statue, but the Kerkopes had already disappeared.

  “Bravo!” Akmon applauded from a nearby café table. “You make a wonderful piñata, son of Jupiter!”

  “Yes!” Passalos agreed. “Hercules hung us upside down once, you know. Oh, revenge is sweet!”

  Leo summoned a fireball. He lobbed it at Passalos, who was trying to juggle two pigeons and the Archimedes sphere.

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