The house of hades, p.28
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       The House of Hades, p.28

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 28


  “We are,” Pluto agreed. “But you invoked me so strongly that you allowed me to appear…if only for a moment. ”

  “I didn’t invoke you. ”

  But even as she said it, she knew it wasn’t true. For the first time, willingly, she’d embraced her lineage as a child of Pluto. She’d tried to understand her father’s powers and use them to the fullest.

  “When you come to my house in Epirus,” Pluto said, “you must be prepared. The dead will not welcome you. And the sorceress Pasiphaë—”

  “Pacify?” Hazel asked. Then she realized that must be the woman’s name.

  “She will not be fooled as easily as Sciron. ” Pluto’s eyes glittered like volcanic stone. “You succeeded in your first test, but Pasiphaë intends to rebuild her domain, which will endanger all demigods. Unless you stop her at the House of Hades…”

  His form flickered. For a moment he was bearded, in Greek robes with a golden laurel wreath in his hair. Around his feet, skeletal hands broke through the earth.

  The god gritted his teeth and scowled.

  His Roman form stabilized. The skeletal hands dissolved back into the earth.

  “We do not have much time. ” He looked like a man who’d just been violently ill. “Know that the Doors of Death are at the lowest level of the Necromanteion. You must make Pasiphaë see what she wants to see. You are right. That is the secret to all magic. But it will not be easy when you are in her maze. ”

  “What do you mean? What maze?”

  “You will understand,” he promised. “And, Hazel Levesque…you will not believe me, but I am proud of your strength. Sometimes…sometimes the only way I can care for my children is to keep my distance. ”

  Hazel bit back an insult. Pluto was just another deadbeat godly dad making weak excuses. But her heart pounded as she replayed his words: I am proud of your strength.

  “Go to your friends,” Pluto said. “They will be worried. The journey to Epirus still holds many perils. ”

  “Wait,” Hazel said.

  Pluto raised an eyebrow.

  “When I met Thanatos,” she said, “you know…Death…he told me I wasn’t on your list of rogue spirits to capture. He said maybe that’s why you were keeping your distance. If you acknowledged me, you’d have to take me back to the Underworld. ”

  Pluto waited. “What is your question?”

  “You’re here. Why don’t you take me to the Underworld? Return me to the dead?”

  Pluto’s form started to fade. He smiled, but Hazel couldn’t tell if he was sad or pleased. “Perhaps that is not what I want to see, Hazel. Perhaps I was never here. ”

  PERCY WAS RELIEVED when the demon grandmothers closed in for the kill.

  Sure, he was terrified. He didn’t like the odds of three against several dozen. But at least he understood fighting. Wandering through the darkness, waiting to be attacked—that had been driving him crazy.

  Besides, he and Annabeth had fought together many times. And now they had a Titan on their side.

  “Back off. ” Percy jabbed Riptide at the nearest shriveled hag, but she only sneered.

  We are the arai, said that weird voice-over, like the entire forest was speaking. You cannot destroy us.

  Annabeth pressed against his shoulder. “Don’t touch them,” she warned. “They’re the spirits of curses. ”

  “Bob doesn’t like curses,” Bob decided. The skeleton kitten Small Bob disappeared inside his coveralls. Smart cat.

  The Titan swept his broom in a wide arc, forcing the spirits back, but they came in again like the tide.

  We serve the bitter and the defeated, said the arai. We serve the slain who prayed for vengeance with their final breath. We have many curses to share with you.

  The firewater in Percy’s stomach started crawling up his throat. He wished Tartarus had better beverage options, or maybe a tree that dispensed antacid fruit.

  “I appreciate the offer,” he said. “But my mom told me not to accept curses from strangers. ”

  The nearest demon lunged. Her claws extended like bony switchblades. Percy cut her in two, but as soon as she vaporized, the sides of his chest flared with pain. He stumbled back, clamping his hand to his rib cage. His fingers came away wet and red.

  “Percy, you’re bleeding!” Annabeth cried, which was kind of obvious to him at that point. “Oh, gods, on both sides. ”

  It was true. The left and right hems of his tattered shirt were sticky with blood, as if a javelin had run him through.

  Or an arrow…

  Queasiness almost knocked him over. Vengeance. A curse from the slain.

  He flashed back to an encounter in Texas two years ago—a fight with a monstrous rancher who could only be killed if each of his three bodies was cut through simultaneously.

  “Geryon,” Percy said. “This is how I killed him. …”

  The spirits bared their fangs. More arai leaped from the black trees, flapping their leathery wings.

  Yes, they agreed. Feel the pain you inflicted upon Geryon. So many curses have been leveled at you, Percy Jackson. Which will you die from? Choose, or we will rip you apart!

  Somehow he stayed on his feet. The blood stopped spreading, but he still felt like he had a hot metal curtain rod sticking through his ribs. His sword arm was heavy and weak.

  “I don’t understand,” he muttered.

  Bob’s voice seemed to echo from the end of a long tunnel: “If you kill one, it gives you a curse. ”

  “But if we don’t kill them…” Annabeth said.

  “They’ll kill us anyway,” Percy guessed.

  Choose! the arai cried. Will you be crushed like Kampê? Or disintegrated like the young telkhines you slaughtered under Mount St. Helens? You have spread so much death and suffering, Percy Jackson. Let us repay you!

  The winged hags pressed in, their breath sour, their eyes burning with hatred. They looked like Furies, but Percy decided these things were even worse. At least the three Furies were under the control of Hades. These things were wild, and they just kept multiplying.

  If they really embodied the dying curses of every enemy Percy had ever destroyed…then Percy was in serious trouble. He’d faced a lot of enemies.

  One of the demons lunged at Annabeth. Instinctively, she dodged. She brought her rock down on the old lady’s head and broke her into dust.

  It wasn’t like Annabeth had a choice. Percy would’ve done the same thing. But instantly Annabeth dropped her rock and cried in alarm.

  “I can’t see!” She touched her face, looking around wildly. Her eyes were pure white.

  Percy ran to her side as the arai cackled.

  Polyphemus cursed you when you tricked him with your invisibility in the Sea of Monsters. You called yourself Nobody. He could not see you. Now you will not see your attackers.

  “I’ve got you,” Percy promised. He put his arm around Annabeth, but as the arai advanced, he didn’t know how he could protect either of them.

  A dozen demons leaped from every direction, but Bob yelled, “SWEEP!”

  His broom whooshed over Percy’s head. The entire arai offensive line toppled backward like bowling pins.

  More surged forward. Bob whacked one over the head and speared another, blasting them to dust. The others backed away.

  Percy held his breath, waiting for their Titan friend to be laid low with some terrible curse, but Bob seemed fine—a massive silvery bodyguard keeping death at bay with the world’s most terrifying cleaning implement.

  “Bob, you okay?” Percy asked. “No curses?”

  “No curses for Bob!” Bob agreed.

  The arai snarled and circled, eying the broom. The Titan is already cursed. Why should we torture him further? You, Percy Jackson, have already destroyed his memory.

  Bob’s spearhead dipped.

  “Bob, don’t listen to them,” Annabeth said. “They’re evil!”

  Time slowed. Percy wondered i
f the spirit of Kronos was somewhere nearby, swirling in the darkness, enjoying this moment so much that he wanted it to last forever. Percy felt exactly like he had at twelve years old, battling Ares on that beach in Los Angeles, when the shadow of the Titan lord had first passed over him.

  Bob turned. His wild white hair looked like an exploded halo. “My memory… It was you?”

  Curse him, Titan! the arai urged, their red eyes gleaming. Add to our numbers!

  Percy’s heart pressed against his spine. “Bob, it’s a long story. I didn’t want you to be my enemy. I tried to make you a friend. ”

  By stealing your life, the arai said. Leaving you in the palace of Hades to scrub floors!

  Annabeth gripped Percy’s hand. “Which way?” she whispered. “If we have to run?”

  He understood. If Bob wouldn’t protect them, their only chance was to run—but that wasn’t any chance at all.

  “Bob, listen,” he tried again, “the arai want you to get angry. They spawn from bitter thoughts. Don’t give them what they want. We are your friends. ”

  Even as he said it, Percy felt like a liar. He’d left Bob in the Underworld and hadn’t given him a thought since. What made them friends? The fact that Percy needed him now? Percy always hated it when the gods used him for their errands. Now Percy was treating Bob the same way.

  You see his face? the arai growled. The boy cannot even convince himself. Did he visit you, after he stole your memory?

  “No,” Bob murmured. His lower lip quivered. “The other one did. ”

  Percy’s thoughts moved sluggishly. “The other one?”

  “Nico. ” Bob scowled at him, his eyes full of hurt. “Nico visited. Told me about Percy. Said Percy was good. Said he was a friend. That is why Bob helped. ”

  “But…” Percy’s voice disintegrated like someone had hit it with a Celestial bronze blade. He’d never felt so low and dishonorable, so unworthy of having a friend.

  The arai attacked, and this time Bob did not stop them.

  “LEFT!” PERCY DRAGGED ANNABETH, slicing through the arai to clear a path. He probably brought down a dozen curses on himself, but he didn’t feel them right away, so he kept running.

  The pain in his chest flared with every step. He wove between the trees, leading Annabeth at a full sprint despite her blindness.

  Percy realized how much she trusted him to get her out of this. He couldn’t let her down, yet how could he save her? And if she was permanently blind… No. He suppressed a surge of panic. He would figure out how to cure her later. First they had to escape.

  Leathery wings beat the air above them. Angry hissing and the scuttling of clawed feet told him the demons were at their backs.

  As they ran past one of the black trees, he slashed his sword across the trunk. He heard it topple, followed by the satisfying crunch of several dozen arai as they were smashed flat.

  If a tree falls in the forest and crushes a demon, does the tree get cursed?

  Percy slashed down another trunk, then another. It bought them a few seconds, but not enough.

  Suddenly the darkness in front of them became thicker. Percy realized what it meant just in time. He grabbed Annabeth right before they both charged off the side of the cliff.

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