The lost hero, p.32
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       The Lost Hero, p.32
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         Part #1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 32

 

  “No,” Piper said. “Not at all. ”

  She stared at the logo on the wall: monocle motors, the single red eye. Something about that logo bothered her.

  Maybe it was the idea Enceladus was watching her, holding her father for leverage. She had to save him, but how could she betray her friends?

  “Jason,” she said. “Speaking of the truth, I need to tell you something—something about my dad—”

  She didn’t get the chance. Somewhere below, metal clanged against metal, like a door slamming shut. The sound echoed through the warehouse.

  Jason stood. He took out his coin and flipped it, snatching his golden sword out of the air. He peered over the railing. “Leo?” he called.

  No answer.

  He crouched next to Piper. “I don’t like this. ”

  “He could be in trouble,” Piper said. “Go check. ”

  “I can’t leave you alone. ”

  “I’ll be fine. ” She felt terrified, but she wasn’t about to admit it. She drew her dagger Katoptris and tried to look confident. “Anyone gets close, I’ll skewer them. ”

  Jason hesitated. “I’ll leave you the pack. If I’m not back in five minutes—”

  “Panic?” she suggested.

  He managed a smile. “Glad you’re back to normal. The makeup and the dress were a lot more intimidating than the dagger. ”

  “Get going, Sparky, before I skewer you. ”

  “Sparky?”

  Even offended, Jason looked hot. It wasn’t fair. Then he made his way to the stairs and disappeared into the dark.

  Piper counted her breaths, trying to gauge how much time had passed. She lost track at around forty-three. Then something in the warehouse went bang!

  The echo died. Piper’s heart pounded, but she didn’t call out. Her instincts told her it might not be a good idea.

  She stared at her splinted ankle. It’s not like I can run. Then she looked up again at the Monocle Motors sign. A little voice in her head pestered her, warning of danger. Something from Greek mythology …

  Her hand went to her backpack. She took out the ambrosia squares. Too much would burn her up, but would a little more fix her ankle?

  Boom. The sound was closer this time, directly below her. She dug out a whole square of ambrosia and stuffed it in her mouth. Her heart raced faster. Her skin felt feverish.

  Hesitantly, she flexed her ankle against the splint. No pain, no stiffness at all. She cut through the duct tape with her dagger and heard heavy steps on the stairs—like metal boots.

  Had it been five minutes? Longer? The steps didn’t sound like Jason, but maybe he was carrying Leo. Finally she couldn’t stand it. Gripping her dagger, she called out, “Jason?”

  “Yeah,” he said from the darkness. “On my way up. ”

  Definitely Jason’s voice. So why did all her instincts say Run?

  With effort, she got to her feet.

  The steps came closer.

  “It’s okay,” Jason’s voice promised.

  At the top of the stairs, a face appeared out of the darkness—a hideous black grin, a smashed nose, and a single bloodshot eye in the middle of his forehead.

  “It’s fine,” the Cyclops said, in a perfect imitation of Jason’s voice. “You’re just in time for dinner. ”

  LEO WISHED THE DRAGON HADN’T LANDED on the toilets.

  Of all the places to crash, a line of Porta-Potties would not have been his first choice. A dozen of the blue plastic boxes had been set up in the factory yard, and Festus had flattened them all. Fortunately, they hadn’t been used in a long time, and the fireball from the crash incinerated most of the contents; but still, there were some pretty gross chemicals leaking out of the wreckage. Leo had to pick his way through and try not to breathe through his nose. Heavy snow was coming down, but the dragon’s hide was still steaming hot. Of course, that didn’t bother Leo.

  After a few minutes climbing over Festus’s inanimate body, Leo started to get irritated. The dragon looked perfectly fine. Yes, it had fallen out of the sky and landed with a big ka-boom, but its body wasn’t even dented. The fireball had apparently come from built up gasses inside the toilet units, not from the dragon itself. Festus’s wings were intact. Nothing seemed broken. There was no reason it should have stopped.

  “Not my fault,” he muttered. “Festus, you’re making me look bad. ”

  Then he opened the control panel on the dragon’s head, and Leo’s heart sank. “Oh, Festus, what the heck?”

  The wiring had frozen over. Leo knew it had been okay yesterday. He’d worked so hard to repair the corroded lines, but something had caused a flash freeze inside the dragon’s skull, where it should’ve been too hot for ice to form. The ice had caused the wiring to overload and char the control disk. Leo couldn’t see any reason that would’ve happened. Sure, the dragon was old, but still, it didn’t make sense.

  He could replace the wires. That wasn’t the problem. But the charred control disk was not good. The Greek letters and pictures carved around the edges, which probably held all kinds of magic, were blurred and blackened.

  The one piece of hardware Leo couldn’t replace—and it was damaged. Again.

  He imagined his mom’s voice: Most problems look worse than they are, mijo. Nothing is unfixable.

  His mom could repair just about anything, but Leo was pretty sure she’d never worked on a fifty-year-old magic metal dragon.

  He clenched his teeth and decided he had to try. He wasn’t walking from Detroit to Chicago in a snowstorm, and he wasn’t going to be responsible for stranding his friends.

  “Right,” he muttered, brushing the snow off his shoulders.

  “Gimme a nylon bristle detail brush, some nitrile gloves, and maybe a can of that aerosol cleaning solvent. ”

  The tool belt obliged. Leo couldn’t help smiling as he pulled out the supplies. The belt’s pockets did have limits. They wouldn’t give him anything magic, like Jason’s sword, or anything huge, like a chain saw. He’d tried asking for both. And if he asked for too many things at once, the belt needed a cooldown time before it could work again. The more complicated the request, the longer the cooldown. But anything small and simple like you might find around a workshop—all Leo had to do was ask.

  He began cleaning off the control disk. While he worked, snow collected on the cooling dragon. Leo had to stop from time to time to summon fire and melt it away, but mostly he went into autopilot mode, his hands working by themselves as his thoughts wandered.

  Leo couldn’t believe how stupid he’d acted back at Boreas’s palace. He should’ve figured a family of winter gods would hate him on sight. Son of the fire god flying a fire-breathing dragon into an ice penthouse—yeah, maybe not the best move. Still, he hated feeling like a reject. Jason and Piper got to visit the throne room. Leo got to wait in the lobby with Cal, the demigod of hockey and major head injuries.

  Fire is bad, Cal had told him.

  That pretty much summed it up. Leo knew he couldn’t keep the truth from his friends much longer. Ever since Camp Half-Blood, one line of that Great Prophecy kept coming back to him: To storm or fire the world must fall.

  And Leo was the fire guy, the first one since 1666 when London had burned down. If he told his friends what he could really do—Hey, guess what, guys? I might destroy the world!—why would anyone welcome him back at camp? Leo would have to go on the run again. Even though he knew that drill, the idea depressed him.

  Then there was Khione. Dang, that girl was fine. Leo knew he’d acted like a total fool, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d had his clothes cleaned with the one-hour valet service —which had been totally sweet, by the way. He’d combed his hair—never an easy job—and even discovered the tool bag could make breath mints, all in hopes that he could get close to her. Naturally, no such luck.

  Getting frozen out—story of his life—by his relatives, foster homes, you name it. Even at Wilderness School
, Leo had spent the last few weeks feeling like a third wheel as Jason and Piper, his only friends, became a couple. He was happy for them and all, but still it made him feel like they didn’t need him anymore.

  When he’d found out that Jason’s whole time at school had been an illusion—a kind of a memory burp—Leo had been secretly excited. It was a chance for a reset. Now Jason and Piper were heading toward being a couple again—that was obvious from the way they’d acted in the warehouse just now, like they wanted to talk in private without Leo around. What had he expected? He’d wind up the odd man out again. Khione had just given him the cold shoulder a little quicker than most.

  “Enough, Valdez,” he scolded himself. “Nobody’s going to play any violins for you just because you’re not important. Fix the stupid dragon. ”

  He got so involved with his work, he wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he heard the voice.

  You’re wrong, Leo, it said.

  He fumbled his brush and dropped it into the dragon’s head. He stood, but he couldn’t see who’d spoken. Then he looked at the ground. Snow and chemical sludge from the toilets, even the asphalt itself was shifting like it was turning to liquid. A ten-foot-wide area formed eyes, a nose, and a mouth—the giant face of a sleeping woman.

  She didn’t exactly speak. Her lips didn’t move. But Leo could hear her voice in his head, as if the vibrations were coming through the ground, straight into his feet and resonating up his skeleton.

  They need you desperately, she said. In some ways, you are the most important of the seven—like the control disk in the dragon’s brain. Without you, the power of the others means nothing. They will never reach me, never stop me. And I will fully wake.

  “You. ” Leo was shaking so badly he wasn’t sure he’d spoken aloud. He hadn’t heard that voice since he was eight, but it was her: the earthen woman from the machine shop. “You killed my mom. ”

  The face shifted. The mouth formed a sleepy smile like it was having a pleasant dream. Ah, but Leo. I am your mother too—the First Mother. Do not oppose me. Walk away now. Let my son Porphyrion rise and become king, and I will ease your burdens. You will tread lightly on the earth.

  Leo grabbed the nearest thing he could find—a Porta-Potty seat—and threw it at the face. “Leave me alone!”

  The toilet seat sank into the liquid earth. Snow and sludge rippled, and the face dissolved.

  Leo stared at the ground, waiting for the face to reappear. But it didn’t. Leo wanted to think he’d imagined it.

  Then from the direction of the factory, he heard a crash—like two dump trucks slamming together. Metal crumpled and groaned, and the noise echoed across the yard. Instantly Leo knew that Jason and Piper were in trouble.

  Walk away now, the voice had urged.

  “Not likely,” Leo growled. “Gimme the biggest hammer you got. ”

  He reached into his tool belt and pulled out a three-pound club hammer with a double-faced head the size of a baked potato. Then he jumped off the dragon’s back and ran toward the warehouse.

 
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