The house of hades, p.37
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       The House of Hades, p.37

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 37

 

  Bob shifted his weight. Titans were scary, but Annabeth had never seen one next to a giant before. Compared to the drakon-killer, Bob looked downright runty.

  “Damasen is a good giant,” Bob said. “He is peaceful. He can cure poisons. ”

  Annabeth watched the giant Damasen, who was now ripping chunks of bloody meat from the drakon carcass with his bare hands.

  “Peaceful,” she said. “Yes, I can see that. ”

  “Good meat for dinner. ” Damasen stood up straight and studied Annabeth, as if she were another potential source of protein. “Come inside. We will have stew. Then we will see about this promise. ”

  COZY.

  Annabeth never thought she would describe anything in Tartarus that way, but despite the fact that the giant’s hut was as big as a planetarium and constructed of bones, mud, and drakon skin, it definitely felt cozy.

  In the center blazed a bonfire made of pitch and bone; yet the smoke was white and odorless, rising through the hole in the middle of the ceiling. The floor was covered with dry marsh grass and gray wool rugs. At one end lay a massive bed of sheepskins and drakon leather. At the other end, freestanding racks were hung with drying plants, cured leather, and what looked like strips of drakon jerky. The whole place smelled of stew, smoke, basil, and thyme.

  The only thing that worried Annabeth was the flock of sheep huddled in a pen at the back of the hut.

  Annabeth remembered the cave of Polyphemus the Cyclops, who ate demigods and sheep indiscriminately. She wondered if giants had similar tastes.

  Part of her was tempted to run, but Bob had already placed Percy in the giant’s bed, where he nearly disappeared in the wool and leather. Small Bob hopped off Percy and kneaded the blankets, purring so strongly the bed rattled like a Thousand-Finger Massage.

  Damasen plodded to the bonfire. He tossed his drakon meat into a hanging pot that seemed to be made from an old monster skull, then picked up a ladle and began to stir.

  Annabeth didn’t want to be the next ingredient in his stew, but she’d come here for a reason. She took a deep breath and marched up to Damasen. “My friend is dying. Can you cure him or not?”

  Her voice caught on the word friend. Percy was a lot more than that. Even boyfriend really didn’t cover it. They’d been through so much together, at this point Percy was part of her—a sometimes annoying part, sure, but definitely a part she could not live without.

  Damasen looked down at her, glowering under his bushy red eyebrows. Annabeth had met large scary humanoids before, but Damasen unsettled her in a different way. He didn’t seem hostile. He radiated sorrow and bitterness, as if he were so wrapped up in his own misery that he resented Annabeth for trying to make him focus on anything else.

  “I don’t hear words like those in Tartarus,” the giant grumbled. “Friend. Promise. ”

  Annabeth crossed her arms. “How about gorgon’s blood? Can you cure that, or did Bob overstate your talents?”

  Angering a twenty-foot-tall drakon slayer probably wasn’t a wise strategy, but Percy was dying. She didn’t have time for diplomacy.

  Damasen scowled at her. “You question my talents? A half-dead mortal straggles into my swamp and questions my talents?”

  “Yep,” she said.

  “Hmph. ” Damasen handed Bob the ladle. “Stir. ”

  As Bob tended the stew, Damasen perused his drying racks, plucking various leaves and roots. He popped a fistful of plant material into his mouth, chewed it up, then spat it into a clump of wool.

  “Cup of broth,” Damasen ordered.

  Bob ladled some stew juice into a hollow gourd. He handed it to Damasen, who dunked the chewed-up gunk ball and stirred it with his finger.

  “Gorgon’s blood,” he muttered. “Hardly a challenge for my talents. ”

  He lumbered to the bedside and propped up Percy with one hand. Small Bob the kitten sniffed the broth and hissed. He scratched the sheets with his paws like he wanted to bury it.

  “You’re going to feed him that?” Annabeth asked.

  The giant glared at her. “Who is the healer here? You?”

  Annabeth shut her mouth. She watched as the giant made Percy sip the broth. Damasen handled him with surprising gentleness, murmuring words of encouragement that she couldn’t quite catch.

  With each sip, Percy’s color improved. He drained the cup, and his eyes fluttered open. He looked around with a dazed expression, spotted Annabeth, and gave her a drunken grin. “Feel great. ”

  His eyes rolled up in his head. He fell back in the bed and began to snore.

  “A few hours of sleep,” Damasen pronounced. “He’ll be good as new. ”

  Annabeth sobbed with relief.

  “Thank you,” she said.

  Damasen stared at her mournfully. “Oh, don’t thank me. You’re still doomed. And I require payment for my services. ”

  Annabeth’s mouth went dry. “Uh…what sort of payment?”

  “A story. ” The giant’s eyes glittered. “It gets boring in Tartarus. You can tell me your story while we eat, eh?”

  Annabeth felt uneasy telling a giant about their plans.

  Still, Damasen was a good host. He’d saved Percy. His drakon-meat stew was excellent (especially compared to firewater). His hut was warm and comfortable, and for the first time since plunging into Tartarus, Annabeth felt like she could relax. Which was ironic, since she was having dinner with a Titan and a giant.

  She told Damasen about her life and her adventures with Percy. She explained how Percy had met Bob, wiped his memory in the River Lethe, and left him in the care of Hades.

  “Percy was trying to do something good,” she promised Bob. “He didn’t know Hades would be such a creep. ”

  Even to her, it didn’t sound convincing. Hades was always a creep.

  She thought about what the arai had said—how Nico di Angelo had been the only person to visit Bob in the palace of the Underworld. Nico was one of the least outgoing, least friendly demigods Annabeth knew. Yet he’d been kind to Bob. By convincing Bob that Percy was a friend, Nico had inadvertently saved their lives. Annabeth wondered if she would ever figure that guy out.

  Bob washed his bowl with his squirt bottle and rag.

  Damasen made a rolling gesture with his spoon. “Continue your story, Annabeth Chase. ”

  She explained about their quest in the Argo II. When she got to the part about stopping Gaea from waking, she faltered. “She’s, um…she’s your mom, right?”

  Damasen scraped his bowl. His face was covered with old poison burns, gouges, and scar tissue, so it looked like the surface of an asteroid.

  “Yes,” he said. “And Tartarus is my father. ” He gestured around the hut. “As you can see, I was a disappointment to my parents. They expected…more from me. ”

  Annabeth couldn’t quite wrap her mind around the fact that she was sharing soup with a twenty-foot-tall lizard-legged man whose parents were Earth and the Pit of Darkness.

  Olympian gods were hard enough to imagine as parents, but at least they resembled humans. The old primordial gods like Gaea and Tartarus… How could you leave home and ever be independent of your parents, when they literally encompassed the entire world?

  “So…” she said. “You don’t mind us fighting your mom?”

  Damasen snorted like a bull. “Best of luck. At present, it’s my father you should worry about. With him opposing you, you have no chance to survive. ”

  Suddenly Annabeth didn’t feel so hungry. She put her bowl on the floor. Small Bob came over to check it out.

  “Opposing us how?” she asked.

  “All of this. ” Damasen cracked a drakon bone and used a splinter as a toothpick. “All that you see is the body of Tartarus, or at least one manifestation of it. He knows you are here. He tries to thwart your progress at every step. My brethren hunt you. It is remarkable you have lived this long, even with the help of Iapetus. ”

  Bob sco
wled when he heard his name. “The defeated ones hunt us, yes. They will be close behind now. ”

  Damasen spat out his toothpick. “I can obscure your path for a while, long enough for you to rest. I have power in this swamp. But eventually, they will catch you. ”

  “My friends must reach the Doors of Death,” Bob said. “That is the way out. ”

  “Impossible,” Damasen muttered. “The Doors are too well guarded. ”

  Annabeth sat forward. “But you know where they are?”

  “Of course. All of Tartarus flows down to one place: his heart. The Doors of Death are there. But you cannot make it there alive with only Iapetus. ”

  “Then come with us,” Annabeth said. “Help us. ”

  “HA!”

  Annabeth jumped. In the bed, Percy muttered deliriously in his sleep, “Ha, ha, ha. ”

  “Child of Athena,” the giant said, “I am not your friend. I helped mortals once, and you see where it got me. ”

  “You helped mortals?” Annabeth knew a lot about Greek legends, but she drew a total blank on the name Damasen. “I—I don’t understand. ”

  “Bad story,” Bob explained. “Good giants have bad stories. Damasen was created to oppose Ares. ”

  “Yes,” the giant agreed. “Like all my brethren, I was born to answer a certain god. My foe was Ares. But Ares was the god of war. And so, when I was born—”

  “You were his opposite,” Annabeth guessed. “You were peaceful. ”

  “Peaceful for a giant, at least. ” Damasen sighed. “I wandered the fields of Maeonia, in the land you now call Turkey. I tended my sheep and collected my herbs. It was a good life. But I would not fight the gods. My mother and father cursed me for that. The final insult: One day the Maeonian drakon killed a human shepherd, a friend of mine, so I hunted the creature down and slew it, thrusting a tree straight through its mouth. I used the power of the earth to regrow the tree’s roots, planting the drakon firmly in the ground. I made sure it would terrorize mortals no more. That was a deed Gaea could not forgive. ”

  “Because you helped someone?”

  “Yes. ” Damasen looked ashamed. “Gaea opened the earth, and I was consumed, exiled here in the belly of my father Tartarus, where all the useless flotsam collects—all the bits of creation he does not care for. ” The giant plucked a flower out of his hair and regarded it absently. “They let me live, tending my sheep, collecting my herbs, so I might know the uselessness of the life I chose. Every day—or what passes for day in this lightless place—the Maeonian drakon re-forms and attacks me. Killing it is my endless task. ”

  Annabeth gazed around the hut, trying to imagine how many eons Damasen had been exiled here—slaying the drakon, collecting its bones and hide and meat, knowing it would attack again the next day. She could barely imagine surviving a week in Tartarus. Exiling your own son here for centuries—that was beyond cruel.

  “Break the curse,” she blurted out. “Come with us. ”

  Damasen chuckled sourly. “As simple as that. Don’t you think I have tried to leave this place? It is impossible. No matter which direction I travel, I end up here again. The swamp is the only thing I know—the only destination I can imagine. No, little demigod. My curse has overtaken me. I have no hope left. ”

 
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