The house of hades, p.27
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       The House of Hades, p.27

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 27


  Hazel climbed out of her pile of treasure. She led Jason as far away as she dared—about fifty feet down the cliff, which she hoped was out of earshot.

  “Sciron kicks his victims off the cliff,” she whispered.

  Jason scowled. “What?”

  “When you kneel down to wash his feet,” Hazel said. “That’s how he kills you. When you’re off-balance, woozy from the smell of his feet, he’ll kick you over the edge. You’ll fall right into the mouth of his giant turtle. ”

  Jason took a moment to digest that, so to speak. He glanced over the cliff, where the turtle’s massive shell glinted just under the water.

  “So we have to fight,” Jason said.

  “Sciron’s too fast,” Hazel said. “He’ll kill us both. ”

  “Then I’ll be ready to fly. When he kicks me over, I’ll float halfway down the cliff. Then when he kicks you, I’ll catch you. ”

  Hazel shook her head. “If he kicks you hard and fast enough, you’ll be too dazed to fly. And even if you can, Sciron’s got the eyes of a marksman. He’ll watch you fall. If you hover, he’ll just shoot you out of the air. ”

  “Then…” Jason clenched his sword hilt. “I hope you have another idea?”

  A few feet away, Gale the weasel appeared from the bushes. She gnashed her teeth and peered at Hazel as if to say, Well? Do you?

  Hazel calmed her nerves, trying to avoid pulling more gold from the ground. She remembered the dream she’d had of her father Pluto’s voice: The dead see what they believe they will see. So do the living. That is the secret.

  She understood what she had to do. She hated the idea worse than she hated that farting weasel, worse than she hated Sciron’s feet.

  “Unfortunately, yes,” Hazel said. “We have to let Sciron win. ”

  “What?” Jason demanded.

  Hazel told him the plan.

  “FINALLY!” SCIRON CRIED. “That was much longer than two minutes!”

  “Sorry,” Jason said. “It was a big decision…which foot. ”

  Hazel tried to clear her mind and imagine the scene through Sciron’s eyes—what he desired, what he expected.

  That was the key to using the Mist. She couldn’t force someone to see the world her way. She couldn’t make Sciron’s reality appear less believable. But if she showed him what he wanted to see…well, she was a child of Pluto. She’d spent decades with the dead, listening to them yearn for past lives that were only half-remembered, distorted by nostalgia.

  The dead saw what they believed they would see. So did the living.

  Pluto was the god of the Underworld, the god of wealth. Maybe those two spheres of influence were more connected than Hazel had realized. There wasn’t much difference between longing and greed.

  If she could summon gold and diamonds, why not summon another kind of treasure—a vision of the world people wanted to see?

  Of course she could be wrong, in which case she and Jason were about to be turtle food.

  She rested her hand on her jacket pocket, where Frank’s magical firewood seemed heavier than usual. She wasn’t just carrying his lifeline now. She was carrying the lives of the entire crew.

  Jason stepped forward, his hands open in surrender. “I’ll go first, Sciron. I’ll wash your left foot. ”

  “Excellent choice!” Sciron wriggled his hairy, corpse-like toes. “I may have stepped on something with that foot. It felt a little squishy inside my boot. But I’m sure you’ll clean it properly. ”

  Jason’s ears reddened. From the tension in his neck, Hazel could tell that he was tempted to drop the charade and attack—one quick slash with his Imperial gold blade. But Hazel knew if he tried, he would fail.

  “Sciron,” she broke in, “do you have water? Soap? How are we supposed to wash—”

  “Like this!” Sciron spun his left flintlock. Suddenly it became a squirt bottle with a rag. He tossed it to Jason.

  Jason squinted at the label. “You want me to wash your feet with glass cleaner?”

  “Of course not!” Sciron knit his eyebrows. “It says multi-surface cleanser. My feet definitely qualify as multi-surface. Besides, it’s antibacterial. I need that. Believe me, water won’t do the trick on these babies. ”

  Sciron wiggled his toes, and more zombie café odor wafted across the cliffs.

  Jason gagged. “Oh, gods, no…”

  Sciron shrugged. “You can always choose what’s in my other hand. ” He hefted his right flintlock.

  “He’ll do it,” Hazel said.

  Jason glared at her, but Hazel won the staring contest.

  “Fine,” he muttered.

  “Excellent! Now…” Sciron hopped to the nearest chunk of limestone that was the right size for a footstool. He faced the water and planted his foot, so he looked like some explorer who’d just claimed a new country. “I’ll watch the horizon while you scrub my bunions. It’ll be much more enjoyable. ”

  “Yeah,” Jason said. “I bet. ”

  Jason knelt in front of the bandit, at the edge of the cliff, where he was an easy target. One kick, and he’d topple over.

  Hazel concentrated. She imagined she was Sciron, the lord of bandits. She was looking down at a pathetic blond-haired kid who was no threat at all—just another defeated demigod about to become his victim.

  In her mind, she saw what would happen. She summoned the Mist, calling it from the depths of the earth the way she did with gold or silver or rubies.

  Jason squirted the cleaning fluid. His eyes watered. He wiped Sciron’s big toe with his rag and turned aside to gag. Hazel could barely watch. When the kick happened, she almost missed it.

  Sciron slammed his foot into Jason’s chest. Jason tumbled backward over the edge, his arms flailing, screaming as he fell. When he was about to hit the water, the turtle rose up and swallowed him in one bite, then sank below the surface.

  Alarm bells sounded on the Argo II. Hazel’s friends scrambled on deck, manning the catapults. Hazel heard Piper wailing all the way from the ship.

  It was so disturbing, Hazel almost lost her focus. She forced her mind to split into two parts—one intensely focused on her task, one playing the role Sciron needed to see.

  She screamed in outrage. “What did you do?”

  “Oh, dear…” Sciron sounded sad, but Hazel got the impression he was hiding a grin under his bandana. “That was an accident, I assure you. ”

  “My friends will kill you now!”

  “They can try,” Sciron said. “But in the meantime, I think you have time to wash my other foot! Believe me, my dear. My turtle is full now. He doesn’t want you too. You’ll be quite safe, unless you refuse. ”

  He leveled the flintlock pistol at her head.

  She hesitated, letting him see her anguish. She couldn’t agree too easily, or he wouldn’t think she was beaten.

  “Don’t kick me,” she said, half-sobbing.

  His eyes twinkled. This was exactly what he expected. She was broken and helpless. Sciron, the son of Poseidon, had won again.

  Hazel could hardly believe this guy had the same father as Percy Jackson. Then she remembered that Poseidon had a changeable personality, like the sea. Maybe his children reflected that. Percy was a child of Poseidon’s better nature—powerful, but gentle and helpful, the kind of sea that sped ships safely to distant lands. Sciron was a child of Poseidon’s other side—the kind of sea that battered relentlessly at the coastline until it crumbled away, or carried the innocents from shore and let them drown, or smashed ships and killed entire crews without mercy.

  She snatched up the spray bottle Jason had dropped.

  “Sciron,” she growled, “your feet are the least disgusting thing about you. ”

  His green eyes hardened. “Just clean. ”

  She knelt, trying to ignore the smell. She shuffled to one side, forcing Sciron to adjust his stance, but she imagined that the sea was still at her back. She held that vision in her mind
as she shuffled sideways again.

  “Just get on with it!” Sciron said.

  Hazel suppressed a smile. She’d managed to turn Sciron one hundred and eighty degrees, but he still saw the water in front of him, the rolling countryside at his back.

  She started to clean.

  Hazel had done plenty of ugly work before. She’d cleaned the unicorn stables at Camp Jupiter. She’d filled and dug latrines for the legion.

  This is nothing, she told herself. But it was hard not to retch when she looked at Sciron’s toes.

  When the kick came, she flew backward, but she didn’t go far. She landed on her butt in the grass a few yards away.

  Sciron stared at her. “But…”

  Suddenly the world shifted. The illusion melted, leaving Sciron totally confused. The sea was at his back. He’d only succeeded in kicking Hazel away from the ledge.

  He lowered his flintlock. “How—”

  “Stand and deliver,” Hazel told him.

  Jason swooped out of the sky, right over her head, and body-slammed the bandit over the cliff.

  Sciron screamed as he fell, firing his flintlock wildly, but for once hitting nothing. Hazel got to her feet. She reached the cliff’s edge in time to see the turtle lunge and snap Sciron out of the air.

  Jason grinned. “Hazel, that was amazing. Seriously…Hazel? Hey, Hazel?”

  Hazel collapsed to her knees, suddenly dizzy.

  Distantly, she could hear her friends cheering from the ship below. Jason stood over her, but he was moving in slow motion, his outline blurry, his voice nothing but static.

  Frost crept across the rocks and grass around her. The mound of riches she’d summoned sank back into the earth. The Mist swirled.

  What have I done? she thought in a panic. Something went wrong.

  “No, Hazel,” said a deep voice behind her. “You have done well. ”

  She hardly dared to breathe. She’d only heard that voice once before, but she had replayed it in her mind thousands of times.

  She turned and found herself looking up at her father.

  He was dressed in Roman style—his dark hair close-cropped, his pale, angular face clean-shaven. His tunic and toga were of black wool, embroidered with threads of gold. The faces of tormented souls shifted in the fabric. The edge of his toga was lined with the crimson of a senator or a praetor, but the stripe rippled like a river of blood. On Pluto’s ring finger was a massive opal, like a chunk of polished frozen Mist.

  His wedding ring, Hazel thought. But Pluto had never married Hazel’s mother. Gods did not marry mortals. That ring would signify his marriage to Persephone.

  The thought made Hazel so angry, she shook off her dizziness and stood.

  “What do you want?” she demanded.

  She hoped her tone would hurt him—jab him for all the pain he’d caused her. But a faint smile played across his mouth.

  “My daughter,” he said. “I am impressed. You have grown strong. ”

  No thanks to you, she wanted to say. She didn’t want to take any pleasure in his compliment, but her eyes still prickled.

  “I thought you major gods were incapacitated,” she managed. “Your Greek and Roman personalities fighting against one another. ”

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