The house of hades, p.17
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       The House of Hades, p.17

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 17


  “They’re always looking down. ” Nico smacked his forehead. “Right. I remember reading about them. ”

  Frank glared at him. “Now you remember?”

  Nico hung his head almost as low as a katobleps. “I, uh…used to play this stupid card game when I was younger. Mythomagic. The katobleps was one of the monster cards. ”

  Frank blinked. “I played Mythomagic. I never saw that card. ”

  “It was in the Africanus Extreme expansion deck. ”

  “Oh. ”

  Their host cleared his throat. “Are you two done, ah, geeking out, as they say?”

  “Right, sorry,” Nico muttered. “Anyway, katoblepones have poison breath and a poison gaze. I thought they only lived in Africa. ”

  The man in denim shrugged. “That’s their native land. They were accidentally imported to Venice hundreds of years ago. You’ve heard of Saint Mark?”

  Frank wanted to scream with frustration. He didn’t see how any of this was relevant, but if their host could heal Hazel, Frank decided maybe it would be best not to make him angry. “Saints? They’re not part of Greek mythology. ”

  The man in denim chuckled. “No, but Saint Mark is the patron saint of this city. He died in Egypt, oh, a long time ago. When the Venetians became powerful…well, the relics of saints were a big tourist attraction back in the Middle Ages. The Venetians decided to steal Saint Mark’s remains and bring them to their big church of San Marco. They smuggled out his body in a barrel of pickled pig parts. ”

  “That’s…disgusting,” Frank said.

  “Yes,” the man agreed with a smile. “The point is, you can’t do something like that and not have consequences. The Venetians unintentionally smuggled something else out of Egypt—the katoblepones. They came here aboard that ship and have been breeding like rats ever since. They love the magical poison roots that grow here—swampy, foul-smelling plants that creep up from the canals. It makes their breath even more poisonous! Usually the monsters ignore mortals, but demigods…especially demigods who get in their way—”

  “Got it,” Frank snapped. “Can you cure her?”

  The man shrugged. “Possibly. ”

  “Possibly?” Frank had to use all his willpower not to throttle the guy.

  He put his hand under Hazel’s nose. He couldn’t feel her breath. “Nico, please tell me she’s doing that death-trance thing, like you did in the bronze jar. ”

  Nico grimaced. “I don’t know if Hazel can do that. Her dad is technically Pluto, not Hades, so—”

  “Hades!” cried their host. He backed away, staring at Nico with distaste. “So that’s what I smell. Children of the Underworld? If I’d known that, I would never have let you in!”

  Frank rose. “Hazel’s a good person. You promised you would help her!”

  “I did not promise. ”

  Nico drew his sword. “She’s my sister,” he growled. “I don’t know who you are, but if you can cure her, you have to, or so help me by the River Styx—”

  “Oh, blah, blah, blah!” The man waved his hand. Suddenly where Nico di Angelo had been standing was a potted plant about five feet tall, with drooping green leaves, tufts of silk, and half a dozen ripe yellow ears of corn.

  “There,” the man huffed, wagging his finger at the corn plant. “Children of Hades can’t order me around! You should talk less and listen more. Now at least you have ears. ”

  Frank stumbled against the bed. “What did you—why—?”

  The man raised an eyebrow. Frank made a squeaky noise that wasn’t very courageous. He’d been so focused on Hazel, he’d forgotten what Leo had told them about the guy they were looking for. “You’re a god,” he remembered.

  “Triptolemus. ” The man bowed. “My friends call me Trip, so don’t call me that. And if you’re another child of Hades—”

  “Mars!” Frank said quickly. “Child of Mars!”

  Triptolemus sniffed. “Well…not much better. But perhaps you deserve to be something better than a corn plant. Sorghum? Sorghum is very nice. ”

  “Wait!” Frank pleaded. “We’re here on a friendly mission. We brought a gift. ” Very slowly, he reached into his backpack and brought out the leather-bound book. “This belongs to you?”

  “My almanac!” Triptolemus grinned and seized the book. He thumbed through the pages and started bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Oh, this is fabulous! Where did you find it?”

  “Um, Bologna. There were these”—Frank remembered that he wasn’t supposed to mention the dwarfs—“terrible monsters. We risked our lives, but we knew this was important to you. So could you maybe, you know, turn Nico back to normal and heal Hazel?”

  “Hmm?” Trip looked up from his book. He’d been happily reciting lines to himself—something about turnip-planting schedules. Frank wished that Ella the harpy were here. She would get along great with this guy.

  “Oh, heal them?” Triptolemus clucked disapprovingly. “I’m grateful for the book, of course. I can definitely let you go free, son of Mars. But I have a long-standing problem with Hades. After all, I owe my godly powers to Demeter!”

  Frank racked his brain, but it was hard with the voices screaming in his head and the katobleps poison making him dizzy.

  “Uh, Demeter,” he said, “the plant goddess. She—she didn’t like Hades because…” Suddenly he recalled an old story he’d heard at Camp Jupiter. “Her daughter, Proserpine—”

  “Persephone,” Trip corrected. “I prefer the Greek, if you don’t mind. ”

  Kill him! Mars screamed.

  I love this guy! Ares yelled back. Kill him anyway!

  Frank decided not to take offense. He didn’t want to get turned into a sorghum plant. “Okay. Hades kidnapped Persephone. ”

  “Exactly!” Trip said.

  “So…Persephone was a friend of yours?”

  Trip snorted. “I was just a mortal prince back then. Persephone wouldn’t have noticed me. But when her mother, Demeter, went searching for her, scouring the whole earth, not many people would help her. Hecate lit her way at night with her torches. And I…well, when Demeter came to my part of Greece, I gave her a place to stay. I comforted her, gave her a meal, and offered my assistance. I didn’t know she was a goddess at the time, but my good deed paid off. Later, Demeter rewarded me by making me a god of farming!”

  “Wow,” Frank said. “Farming. Congratulations. ”

  “I know! Pretty awesome, right? Anyway, Demeter never got along with Hades. So naturally, you know, I have to side with my patron goddess. Children of Hades—forget it! In fact, one of them—this Scythian king named Lynkos? When I tried to teach his countrymen about farming, he killed my right python!”

  “Your…right python?”

  Trip marched over to his winged chariot and hopped in. He pulled a lever, and the wings began to flap. The spotted python on the left wheel opened his eyes. He started to writhe, coiling around the axle like a spring. The chariot whirred into motion, but the right wheel stayed in place, so Triptolemus spun in circles, the chariot beating its wings and bouncing up and down like a defective merry-go-round.

  “You see?” he said as he spun. “No good! Ever since I lost my right python, I haven’t been able to spread the word about farming—at least not in person. Now I have to resort to giving online courses. ”

  “What?” As soon as he said it, Frank was sorry he’d asked.

  Trip hopped off the chariot while it was still spinning. The python slowed to a stop and went back to snoring. Trip jogged over to the line of computers. He tapped the keyboards and the screens woke up, displaying a Web site in maroon and gold, with a picture of a happy farmer in a toga and a John Deere cap, standing with his bronze scythe in a field of wheat.

  “Triptolemus Farming University!” he announced proudly. “In just six weeks, you can get your bachelor’s degree in the exciting and vibrant career of the future—farming!”

  Frank felt a bead of sweat trickle down his
cheek. He didn’t care about this crazy god or his snake-powered chariot or his online degree program. But Hazel was turning greener by the moment. Nico was a corn plant. And he was alone.

  “Look,” he said. “We did bring you the almanac. And my friends are really nice. They’re not like those other children of Hades you’ve met. So if there’s any way—”

  “Oh!” Trip snapped his fingers. “I see where you’re going!”

  “Uh…you do?”

  “Absolutely! If I cure your friend Hazel and return the other one, Nicholas—”

  “Nico. ”

  “—if I return him to normal…”

  Frank hesitated. “Yes?”

  “Then in exchange, you stay with me and take up farming! A child of Mars as my apprentice? It’s perfect! What a spokesman you’ll be. We can beat swords into plowshares and have so much fun!”

  “Actually…” Frank tried frantically to come up with a plan. Ares and Mars screamed in his head, Swords! Guns! Massive ka-booms!

  If he declined Trip’s offer, Frank figured he would offend the guy and end up as sorghum or wheat or some other cash crop.

  If it was the only way to save Hazel, then sure, he could agree to Trip’s demands and become a farmer. But that couldn’t be the only way. Frank refused to believe he’d been chosen by the Fates to go on this quest just so he could take online courses in turnip cultivation.

  Frank’s eyes wandered to the broken chariot. “I have a better offer,” he blurted out. “I can fix that. ”

  Trip’s smile melted. “Fix…my chariot?”

  Frank wanted to kick himself. What was he thinking? He wasn’t Leo. He couldn’t even figure out a stupid pair of Chinese handcuffs. He could barely change the batteries in a TV remote. He couldn’t fix a magical chariot!

  But something told him it was his only chance. That chariot was the one thing Triptolemus might really want.

  “I’ll go find a way to fix the chariot,” he said. “In return, you fix Nico and Hazel. Let us go in peace. And—and give us whatever aid you can to defeat Gaea’s forces. ”

  Triptolemus laughed. “What makes you think I can aid you with that?”

  “Hecate told us so,” Frank said. “She sent us here. She—she decided Hazel is one of her favorites. ”

  The color drained from Trip’s face. “Hecate?”

  Frank hoped he wasn’t overstating things. He didn’t need Hecate mad at him too. But if Triptolemus and Hecate were both friends of Demeter, maybe that would convince Trip to help.

  “The goddess guided us to your almanac in Bologna,” Frank said. “She wanted us to return it to you, because…well, she must’ve known you had some knowledge that would help us get through the House of Hades in Epirus. ”

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