The house of hades, p.14
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       The House of Hades, p.14

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 14


  Percy wanted to hug Annabeth, she was so brilliant.

  One of the other empousai growled. “Is this true, Kelli? Has our mistress made peace with Olympus?”

  “Shut up, Serephone!” Kelli screeched. “Gods, you’re annoying!”

  “I will not cross the Dark Lady. ”

  Annabeth took the opening. “You’d all be better following Serephone. She’s older and wiser. ”

  “Yes!” Serephone shrieked. “Follow me!”

  Kelli struck so fast, Percy didn’t have the chance to raise his sword. Fortunately, she didn’t attack him. Kelli lashed out at Serephone. For half a second, the two demons were a blur of slashing claws and fangs.

  Then it was over. Kelli stood triumphant over a pile of dust. From her claws hung the tattered remains of Serephone’s dress.

  “Any more issues?” Kelli snapped at her sisters. “Hecate is the goddess of the Mist! Her ways are mysterious. Who knows which side she truly favors? She is also the goddess of the crossroads, and she expects us to make our own choices. I choose the path that will bring us the most demigod blood! I choose Gaea!”

  Her friends hissed in approval.

  Annabeth glanced at Percy, and he saw that she was out of ideas. She’d done what she could. She’d gotten Kelli to eliminate one of her own. Now there was nothing left but to fight.

  “For two years I churned in the void,” Kelli said. “Do you know how completely annoying it is to be vaporized, Annabeth Chase? Slowly re-forming, fully conscious, in searing pain for months and years as your body regrows, then finally breaking the crust of this hellish place and clawing your way back to daylight? All because some little girl stabbed you in the back?”

  Her baleful eyes held Annabeth’s. “I wonder what happens if a demigod is killed in Tartarus. I doubt it’s ever happened before. Let’s find out. ”

  Percy sprang, slashing Riptide in a huge arc. He cut one of the demons in half, but Kelli dodged and charged Annabeth. The other two empousai launched themselves at Percy. One grabbed his sword arm. Her friend jumped on his back.

  Percy tried to ignore them and staggered toward Annabeth, determined to go down defending her if he had to; but Annabeth was doing pretty well. She tumbled to one side, evading Kelli’s claws, and came up with a rock in her hand, which she smacked into Kelli’s nose.

  Kelli wailed. Annabeth scooped up gravel and flung it in the empousa’s eyes.

  Meanwhile Percy thrashed from side to side, trying to throw off his empousa hitchhiker, but her claws sank deeper into his shoulders. The second empousa held his arm, preventing him from using Riptide.

  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kelli lunge, raking her talons across Annabeth’s arm. Annabeth screamed and fell.

  Percy stumbled in her direction. The vampire on his back sank her teeth into his neck. Searing pain coursed through his body. His knees buckled.

  Stay on your feet, he told himself. You have to beat them.

  Then the other vampire bit his sword arm, and Riptide clattered to the ground.

  That was it. His luck had finally run out. Kelli loomed over Annabeth, savoring her moment of triumph. The other two empousai circled Percy, their mouths slavering, ready for another taste.

  Then a shadow fell across Percy. A deep war cry bellowed from somewhere above, echoing across the plains of Tartarus, and a Titan dropped onto the battlefield.

  PERCY THOUGHT HE WAS HALLUCINATING. It just wasn’t possible that a huge, silvery figure could drop out of the sky and stomp Kelli flat, trampling her into a mound of monster dust.

  But that’s exactly what happened. The Titan was ten feet tall, with wild silver Einstein hair, pure silver eyes, and muscular arms protruding from a ripped-up blue janitor’s uniform. In his hand was a massive push broom. His name tag, incredibly, read BOB.

  Annabeth yelped and tried to crawl away, but the giant janitor wasn’t interested in her. He turned to the two remaining empousai, who stood over Percy.

  One was foolish enough to attack. She lunged with the speed of a tiger, but she never stood a chance. A spearhead jutted from the end of Bob’s broom. With a single deadly swipe, he cut her to dust. The last vampire tried to run. Bob threw his broom like a massive boomerang (was there such a thing as a broomerang?). It sliced through the vampire and returned to Bob’s hand.

  “SWEEP!” The Titan grinned with delight and did a victory dance. “Sweep, sweep, sweep!”

  Percy couldn’t speak. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that something good had actually happened. Annabeth looked just as shocked.

  “H-how…?” she stammered.

  “Percy called me!” the janitor said happily. “Yes, he did. ”

  Annabeth crawled a little farther away. Her arm was bleeding badly. “Called you? He—wait. You’re Bob? The Bob?”

  The janitor frowned when he noticed Annabeth’s wounds. “Owie. ”

  Annabeth flinched as he knelt next to her.

  “It’s okay,” Percy said, still woozy with pain. “He’s friendly. ”

  He remembered when he’d first met Bob. The Titan had healed a bad wound on Percy’s shoulder just by touching it. Sure enough, the janitor tapped Annabeth’s forearm and it mended instantly.

  Bob chuckled, pleased with himself, then bounded over to Percy and healed his bleeding neck and arm. The Titan’s hands were surprisingly warm and gentle.

  “All better!” Bob declared, his eerie silver eyes crinkling with pleasure. “I am Bob, Percy’s friend!”

  “Uh…yeah,” Percy managed. “Thanks for the help, Bob. It’s really good to see you again. ”

  “Yes!” the janitor agreed. “Bob. That’s me. Bob, Bob, Bob. ” He shuffled around, obviously pleased with his name. “I am helping. I heard my name. Upstairs in Hades’s palace, nobody calls for Bob unless there is a mess. Bob, sweep up these bones. Bob, mop up these tortured souls. Bob, a zombie exploded in the dining room. ”

  Annabeth gave Percy a puzzled look, but he had no explanation.

  “Then I heard my friend call!” The Titan beamed. “Percy said, Bob!”

  He grabbed Percy’s arm and hoisted him to his feet.

  “That’s awesome,” Percy said. “Seriously. But how did you—”

  “Oh, time to talk later. ” Bob’s expression turned serious. “We must go before they find you. They are coming. Yes, indeed. ”

  “They?” Annabeth asked.

  Percy scanned the horizon. He saw no approaching monsters—nothing but the stark gray wasteland.

  “Yes,” Bob agreed. “But Bob knows a way. Come on, friends! We will have fun!”

  FRANK WOKE UP AS A PYTHON, which puzzled him.

  Changing into an animal wasn’t confusing. He did that all the time. But he had never changed from one animal to another in his sleep before. He was pretty sure he hadn’t dozed off as a snake. Usually, he slept like a dog.

  He’d discovered that he got through the night much better if he curled up on his bunk in the shape of a bulldog. For whatever reason, his nightmares didn’t bother him as much. The constant screaming in his head almost disappeared.

  He had no idea why he’d become a reticulated python, but it did explain his dream about slowly swallowing a cow. His jaw was still sore.

  He braced himself and changed back to human form. Immediately, his splitting headache returned, along with the voices.

  Fight them! yelled Mars. Take this ship! Defend Rome!

  The voice of Ares shouted back: Kill the Romans! Blood and death! Large guns!

  His father’s Roman and Greek personalities screamed back and forth in Frank’s mind with the usual soundtrack of battle noises—explosions, assault rifles, roaring jet engines—all throbbing like a subwoofer behind Frank’s eyes.

  He sat up on his berth, dizzy with pain. As he did every morning, he took a deep breath and stared at the lamp on his desk—a tiny flame that burned night and day, fueled by magic olive oil from the supply r

  Fire…Frank’s biggest fear. Keeping an open flame in his room terrified him, but it also helped him focus. The noise in his head faded to the background, allowing him to think.

  He’d gotten better at this, but for days he’d been almost worthless. As soon as the fighting broke out at Camp Jupiter, the war god’s two voices had started screaming nonstop. Ever since, Frank had been stumbling around in a daze, barely able to function. He’d acted like a fool, and he was sure his friends thought he’d lost his marbles.

  He couldn’t tell them what was wrong. There was nothing they could do, and from listening to them talk, Frank was pretty sure they didn’t have the same problem with their godly parents yelling in their ears.

  Just Frank’s luck, but he had to pull it together. His friends needed him—especially now, with Annabeth gone.

  Annabeth had been kind to him. Even when he was so distracted he’d acted like a buffoon, Annabeth had been patient and helpful. While Ares screamed that Athena’s children couldn’t be trusted, and Mars bellowed at him to kill all the Greeks, Frank had grown to respect Annabeth.

  Now that they were without her, Frank was the next best thing the group had to a military strategist. They would need him for the trip ahead.

  He rose and got dressed. Fortunately he’d managed to buy some new clothes in Siena a couple of days ago, replacing the laundry that Leo had sent flying away on Buford the table. (Long story. ) He tugged on some Levi’s and an army-green T-shirt, then reached for his favorite pullover before remembering he didn’t need it. The weather was too warm. More important, he didn’t need the pockets anymore to protect the magical piece of firewood that controlled his life span. Hazel was keeping it safe for him.

  Maybe that should have made him nervous. If the firewood burned, Frank died: end of story. But he trusted Hazel more than he trusted himself. Knowing she was safeguarding his big weakness made him feel better—like he’d fastened his seat belt for a high-speed chase.

  He slung his bow and quiver over his shoulder. Immediately they morphed into a regular backpack. Frank loved that. He never would’ve known about the quiver’s camouflage power if Leo hadn’t figured it out for him.

  Leo! Mars raged. He must die!

  Throttle him! Ares cried. Throttle everyone! Who are we talking about again?

  The two began shouting at each other again, over the sound of bombs exploding in Frank’s skull.

  He steadied himself against the wall. For days, Frank had listened to those voices demanding Leo Valdez’s death.

  After all, Leo had started the war with Camp Jupiter by firing a ballista into the Forum. Sure, he’d been possessed at the time; but still Mars demanded vengeance. Leo made things harder by constantly teasing Frank, and Ares demanded that Frank retaliate for every insult.

  Frank kept the voices at bay, but it wasn’t easy.

  On their trip across the Atlantic, Leo had said something that still stuck in Frank’s mind. When they’d learned that Gaea the evil earth goddess had put a bounty on their heads, Leo had wanted to know for how much.

  I can understand not being as pricey as Jason or Percy, he’d said, but am I worth, like, two or three Franks?

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