The house of hades, p.25
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       The House of Hades, p.25

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 25


  “You wait and fix the oars!” Coach said. “Or just sail the other direction, you big galoot. ”

  Frank looked confused. “What’s a galoot?”

  “Guys!” Nico called down from the mast. “About sailing the other direction? I don’t think that’s going to work. ”

  He pointed past the prow.

  A quarter mile ahead of them, the long rocky strip of land curved in and met the cliffs. The channel ended in a narrow V.

  “We’re not in a strait,” Jason said. “We’re in a dead end. ”

  Hazel got a cold feeling in her fingers and toes. On the port rail, Gale the weasel sat up on her haunches, staring at Hazel expectantly.

  “This is a trap,” Hazel said.

  The others looked at her.

  “Nah, it’s fine,” Leo said. “Worse that happens, we make repairs. Might take overnight, but I can get the ship flying again. ”

  At the mouth of the inlet, the turtle roared. It didn’t appear interested in leaving.

  “Well…” Piper shrugged. “At least the turtle can’t get us. We’re safe here. ”

  That was something no demigod should ever say. The words had barely left Piper’s mouth when an arrow sank into the mainmast, six inches from her face.

  The crew scattered for cover, except for Piper, who stood frozen in place, gaping at the arrow that had almost pierced her nose the hard way.

  “Piper, duck!” Jason whispered harshly.

  But no other missiles rained down.

  Frank studied the angle of the bolt in the mast and pointed toward the top of the cliffs.

  “Up there,” he said. “Single shooter. See him?”

  The sun was in her eyes, but Hazel spotted a tiny figure standing at the top of the ledge. His bronze armor glinted.

  “Who the heck is he?” Leo demanded. “Why is he firing at us?”

  “Guys?” Piper’s voice was thin and watery. “There’s a note. ”

  Hazel hadn’t seen it before, but a parchment scroll was tied to the arrow shaft. She wasn’t sure why, but that made her angry. She stormed over and untied it.

  “Uh, Hazel?” Leo said. “You sure that’s safe?”

  She read the note out loud. “First line: Stand and deliver. ”

  “What does that mean?” Coach Hedge complained. “We are standing. Well, crouching, anyway. And if that guy is expecting a pizza delivery, forget it!”

  “There’s more,” Hazel said. “This is a robbery. Send two of your party to the top of the cliff with all your valuables. No more than two. Leave the magic horse. No flying. No tricks. Just climb. ”

  “Climb what?” Piper asked.

  Nico pointed. “There. ”

  A narrow set of steps was carved into the cliff, leading to the top. The turtle, the dead-end channel, the cliff…Hazel got the feeling this was not the first time the letter writer had ambushed a ship here.

  She cleared her throat and kept reading aloud: “I do mean all your valuables. Otherwise my turtle and I will destroy you. You have five minutes. ”

  “Use the catapults!” cried the coach.

  “P. S. ,” Hazel read, “Don’t even think about using your catapults. ”

  “Curse it!” said the coach. “This guy is good. ”

  “Is the note signed?” Nico asked.

  Hazel shook her head. She’d heard a story back at Camp Jupiter, something about a robber who worked with a giant turtle; but as usual, as soon as she needed the information, it sat annoyingly in the back of her memory, just out of reach.

  The weasel Gale watched her, waiting to see what she would do.

  The test hasn’t happened yet, Hazel thought.

  Distracting the turtle hadn’t been enough. Hazel hadn’t proven anything about how she could manipulate the Mist…mostly because she couldn’t manipulate the Mist.

  Leo studied the cliff top and muttered under his breath. “That’s not a good trajectory. Even if I could arm the catapult before that guy pincushioned us with arrows, I don’t think I could make the shot. That’s hundreds of feet, almost straight up. ”

  “Yeah,” Frank grumbled. “My bow is useless too. He’s got a huge advantage, being above us like that. I couldn’t reach him. ”

  “And, um…” Piper nudged the arrow that was stuck in the mast. “I have a feeling he’s a good shot. I don’t think he meant to hit me. But if he did…”

  She didn’t need to elaborate. Whoever that robber was, he could hit a target from hundreds of feet away. He could shoot them all before they could react.

  “I’ll go,” Hazel said.

  She hated the idea, but she was sure Hecate had set this up as some sort of twisted challenge. This was Hazel’s test—her turn to save the ship. As if she needed confirmation, Gale scampered along the railing and jumped on her shoulder, ready to hitch a ride.

  The others stared at her.

  Frank gripped his bow. “Hazel—”

  “No, listen,” she said, “this robber wants valuables. I can go up there, summon gold, jewels, whatever he wants. ”

  Leo raised an eyebrow. “If we pay him off, you think he’ll actually let us go?”

  “We don’t have much choice,” Nico said. “Between that guy and the turtle…”

  Jason raised his hand. The others fell silent.

  “I’ll go too,” he said. “The letter says two people. I’ll take Hazel up there and watch her back. Besides, I don’t like the look of those steps. If Hazel falls…well, I can use the winds to keep us both from coming down the hard way. ”

  Arion whinnied in protest, as if to say, You’re going without me? You’re kidding, right?

  “I have to, Arion,” Hazel said. “Jason…yes. I think you’re right. It’s the best plan. ”

  “Only wish I had my sword. ” Jason glared at the coach. “It’s back there at the bottom of the sea, and we don’t have Percy to retrieve it. ”

  The name Percy passed over them like a cloud. The mood on deck got even darker.

  Hazel stretched out her arm. She didn’t think about it. She just concentrated on the water and called for Imperial gold.

  A stupid idea. The sword was much too far away, probably hundreds of feet underwater. But she felt a quick tug in her fingers, like a bite on a fishing line, and Jason’s blade flew out of the water and into her hand.

  “Here,” she said, handing it over.

  Jason’s eyes widened. “How… That was like half a mile!”

  “I’ve been practicing,” she said, though it wasn’t true.

  She hoped she hadn’t accidentally cursed Jason’s sword by summoning it, the way she cursed jewels and precious metals.

  Somehow, though, she thought, weapons were different. After all, she’d raised a bunch of Imperial gold equipment from Glacier Bay and distributed it to the Fifth Cohort. That had worked out okay.

  She decided not to worry about it. She felt so angry at Hecate and so tired of being manipulated by the gods that she wasn’t going to let any trifling problems stand in her way. “Now, if there are no other objections, we have a robber to meet. ”

  HAZEL LIKED THE GREAT OUTDOORS—but climbing a two-hundred-foot cliff on a stairway without rails, with a bad-tempered weasel on her shoulder? Not so much. Especially when she could have ridden Arion to the top in a matter of seconds.

  Jason walked behind her so he could catch her if she fell. Hazel appreciated that, but it didn’t make the sheer drop any less scary.

  She glanced to her right, which was a mistake. Her foot almost slipped, sending a spray of gravel over the edge. Gale squeaked in alarm.

  “You all right?” Jason asked.

  “Yes. ” Hazel’s heart jackhammered at her ribs. “Fine. ”

  She had no room to turn and look at him. She just had to trust he wouldn’t let her plummet to her death. Since he could fly, he was the only logical backup. Still, she wished it was Frank at her back, or Nico, or Piper, or Leo. Or even
…well, okay, maybe not Coach Hedge. But still, Hazel couldn’t get a read on Jason Grace.

  Ever since she’d arrived at Camp Jupiter, she’d heard stories about him. The campers spoke with reverence about the son of Jupiter who’d risen from the lowly ranks of the Fifth Cohort to become praetor, led them to victory in the Battle of Mount Tam, then disappeared. Even now, after all the events of the past couple of weeks, Jason seemed more like a legend than a person. She had a hard time warming up to him, with those icy blue eyes and that careful reserve, like he was calculating every word before he said it. Also, she couldn’t forget how he had been ready to write off her brother, Nico, when they’d learned he was a captive in Rome.

  Jason had thought Nico was bait for a trap. He had been right. And maybe, now that Nico was safe, Hazel could see why Jason’s caution was a good idea. Still, she didn’t quite know what to think of the guy. What if they got themselves in trouble at the top of this cliff, and Jason decided that saving Hazel wasn’t in the best interest of the quest?

  She glanced up. She couldn’t see the thief from here, but she sensed he was waiting. Hazel was confident she could produce enough gems and gold to impress even the greediest robber. She wondered if the treasures she summoned would still bring bad luck. She’d never been sure whether that curse had been broken when she had died the first time. This seemed like a good opportunity to find out. Anybody who robbed innocent demigods with a giant turtle deserved a few nasty curses.

  Gale the weasel jumped off her shoulder and scampered ahead. She glanced back and barked eagerly.

  “Going as fast as I can,” Hazel muttered.

  She couldn’t shake the feeling that the weasel was anxious to watch her fail.

  “This, uh, controlling the Mist,” Jason said. “Have you had any luck?”

  “No,” Hazel admitted.

  She didn’t like to think about her failures—the seagull she couldn’t turn into a dragon, Coach Hedge’s baseball bat stubbornly refusing to turn into a hot dog. She just couldn’t make herself believe any of it was possible.

  “You’ll get it,” Jason said.

  His tone surprised her. It wasn’t a throwaway comment just to be nice. He sounded truly convinced. She kept climbing, but she imagined him watching her with those piercing blue eyes, his jaw set with confidence.

  “How can you be sure?” she asked.

  “Just am. I’ve got a good instinct for what people can do—demigods, anyway. Hecate wouldn’t have picked you if she didn’t believe you had power. ”

  Maybe that should have made Hazel feel better. It didn’t.

  She had a good instinct for people too. She understood what motivated most of her friends—even her brother, Nico, who wasn’t easy to read.

  But Jason? She didn’t have a clue. Everybody said he was a natural leader. She believed it. Here he was, making her feel like a valued member of the team, telling her she was capable of anything. But what was Jason capable of?

  She couldn’t talk to anyone about her doubts. Frank was in awe of the guy. Piper, of course, was head-over-heels. Leo was his best friend. Even Nico seemed to follow his lead without question.

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