The house of hades, p.38
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       The House of Hades, p.38

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 38


  “No hope,” Bob echoed.

  “There must be a way. ” Annabeth couldn’t stand the expression on the giant’s face. It reminded her of her own father, the few times he’d confessed to her that he still loved Athena. He had looked so sad and defeated, wishing for something he knew was impossible.

  “Bob has a plan to reach the Doors of Death,” she insisted. “He said we could hide in some sort of Death Mist. ”

  “Death Mist?” Damasen scowled at Bob. “You would take them to Akhlys?”

  “It is the only way,” Bob said.

  “You will die,” Damasen said. “Painfully. In darkness. Akhlys trusts no one and helps no one. ”

  Bob looked like he wanted to argue, but he pressed his lips together and remained silent.

  “Is there another way?” Annabeth asked.

  “No,” Damasen said. “The Death Mist…that is the best plan. Unfortunately, it is a terrible plan. ”

  Annabeth felt like she was hanging over the pit again, unable to pull herself up, unable to maintain her grip—left with no good options.

  “But isn’t it worth trying?” she asked. “You could return to the mortal world. You could see the sun again. ”

  Damasen’s eyes were like the sockets of the drakon’s skull—dark and hollow, devoid of hope. He flicked a broken bone into the fire and rose to his full height—a massive red warrior in sheepskin and drakon leather, with dried flowers and herbs in his hair. Annabeth could see how he was the anti-Ares. Ares was the worst god, blustery and violent. Damasen was the best giant, kind and helpful…and for that, he’d been cursed to eternal torment.

  “Get some sleep,” the giant said. “I will prepare supplies for your journey. I am sorry, but I cannot do more. ”

  Annabeth wanted to argue, but as soon as he said sleep, her body betrayed her, despite her resolution never to sleep in Tartarus again. Her belly was full. The fire made a pleasant crackling sound. The herbs in the air reminded her of the hills around Camp Half-Blood in the summer, when the satyrs and naiads gathered wild plants in the lazy afternoons.

  “Maybe a little sleep,” she agreed.

  Bob scooped her up like a rag doll. She didn’t protest. He set her next to Percy on the giant’s bed, and she closed her eyes.

  ANNABETH WOKE STARING at the shadows dancing across the hut’s ceiling. She hadn’t had a single dream. That was so unusual, she wasn’t sure if she’d actually woken up.

  As she lay there, Percy snoring next to her and Small Bob purring on her belly, she heard Bob and Damasen deep in conversation.

  “You haven’t told her,” Damasen said.

  “No,” Bob admitted. “She is already scared. ”

  The giant grumbled. “She should be. And if you cannot guide them past Night?”

  Damasen said Night like it was a proper name—an evil name.

  “I have to,” Bob said.

  “Why?” Damasen wondered. “What have the demigods given you? They have erased your old self, everything you were. Titans and giants…we are meant to be the foes of the gods and their children. Are we not?”

  “Then why did you heal the boy?”

  Damasen exhaled. “I have been wondering that myself. Perhaps because the girl goaded me, or perhaps…I find these two demigods intriguing. They are resilient to have made it so far. That is admirable. Still, how can we help them any further? It is not our fate. ”

  “Perhaps,” Bob said, uncomfortably. “But…do you like our fate?”

  “What a question. Does anyone like his fate?”

  “I liked being Bob,” Bob murmured. “Before I started to remember…”

  “Huh. ” There was a shuffling sound, as if Damasen was stuffing a leather bag.

  “Damasen,” the Titan asked, “do you remember the sun?”

  The shuffling stopped. Annabeth heard the giant exhale through his nostrils. “Yes. It was yellow. When it touched the horizon, it turned the sky beautiful colors. ”

  “I miss the sun,” Bob said. “The stars, too. I would like to say hello to the stars again. ”

  “Stars…” Damasen said the word as if he’d forgotten its meaning. “Yes. They made silver patterns in the night sky. ” He threw something to the floor with a thump. “Bah. This is useless talk. We cannot—”

  In the distance, the Maeonian drakon roared.

  Percy sat bolt upright. “What? What—where—what?”

  “It’s okay. ” Annabeth took his arm.

  When he registered that they were together in a giant’s bed with a skeleton cat, he looked more confused than ever. “That noise…where are we?”

  “How much do you remember?” she asked.

  Percy frowned. His eyes seemed alert. All his wounds had vanished. Except for his tattered clothes and a few layers of dirt and grime, he looked as if he’d never fallen into Tartarus.

  “I—the demon grandmothers—and then…not much. ”

  Damasen loomed over the bed. “There is no time, little mortals. The drakon is returning. I fear its roar will draw the others—my brethren, hunting you. They will be here within minutes. ”

  Annabeth’s pulse quickened. “What will you tell them when they get here?”

  Damasen’s mouth twitched. “What is there to tell? Nothing of significance, as long as you are gone. ”

  He tossed them two drakon-leather satchels. “Clothes, food, drink. ”

  Bob was wearing a similar but larger pack. He leaned on his broom, gazing at Annabeth as if still pondering Damasen’s words: What have the demigods given you? We are meant to be the foes of the gods and their children.

  Suddenly Annabeth was struck by a thought so sharp and clear, it was like a blade from Athena herself.

  “The Prophecy of Seven,” she said.

  Percy had already climbed out of the bed and was shouldering his pack. He frowned at her. “What about it?”

  Annabeth grabbed Damasen’s hand, startling the giant. His brow furrowed. His skin was as rough as sandstone.

  “You have to come with us,” she pleaded. “The prophecy says foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. I thought it meant Romans and Greeks, but that’s not it. The line means us—demigods, a Titan, a giant. We need you to close the Doors!”

  The drakon roared outside, closer this time. Damasen gently pulled his hand away.

  “No, child,” he murmured. “My curse is here. I cannot escape it. ”

  “Yes, you can,” Annabeth said. “Don’t fight the drakon. Figure out a way to break the cycle! Find another fate. ”

  Damasen shook his head. “Even if I could, I cannot leave this swamp. It is the only destination I can picture. ”

  Annabeth’s mind raced. “There is another destination. Look at me! Remember my face. When you’re ready, come find me. We’ll take you to the mortal world with us. You can see the sunlight and stars. ”

  The ground shook. The drakon was close now, stomping through the marsh, blasting trees and moss with its poison spray. Farther away, Annabeth heard the voice of the giant Polybotes, urging his followers forward. “THE SEA GOD’S SON! HE IS CLOSE!”

  “Annabeth,” Percy said urgently, “that’s our cue to leave. ”

  Damasen took something from his belt. In his massive hand, the white shard looked like another toothpick; but when he offered it to Annabeth, she realized it was a sword—a blade of dragon bone, honed to a deadly edge, with a simple grip of leather.

  “One last gift for the child of Athena,” rumbled the giant. “I cannot have you walking to your death unarmed. Now, go! Before it is too late. ”

  Annabeth wanted to sob. She took the sword, but she couldn’t even make herself say thank you. She knew the giant was meant to fight at their side. That was the answer—but Damasen turned away.

  “We must leave,” Bob urged as his kitten climbed onto his shoulder.

  “He’s right, Annabeth,” Percy said.

  They ran for the entrance. Annabeth didn
t look back as she followed Percy and Bob into the swamp, but she heard Damasen behind them, shouting his battle cry at the advancing drakon, his voice cracking with despair as he faced his old enemy yet again.

  PIPER DIDN’T KNOW MUCH about the Mediterranean, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to freeze in July.

  Two days out to sea from Split, gray clouds swallowed the sky. The waves turned choppy. Cold drizzle sprayed across the deck, forming ice on the rails and the ropes.

  “It’s the scepter,” Nico murmured, hefting the ancient staff. “It has to be. ”

  Piper wondered. Ever since Jason and Nico had returned from Diocletian’s Palace, they’d been acting nervous and cagey. Something major had happened there—something Jason wouldn’t share with her.

  It made sense that the scepter might have caused this weather change. The black orb on top seemed to leach the color right out of the air. The golden eagles at its base glinted coldly. The scepter could supposedly control the dead, and it definitely gave off bad vibes. Coach Hedge had taken one look at the thing, turned pale, and announced that he was going to his room to console himself with Chuck Norris videos. (Although Piper suspected that he was actually making Iris-messages back home to his girlfriend Mellie; the coach had been acting very agitated about her lately, though he wouldn’t tell Piper what was going on. )

  So, yes…maybe the scepter could cause a freak ice storm. But Piper didn’t think that was it. She feared something else was happening—something even worse.

  “We can’t talk up here,” Jason decided. “Let’s postpone the meeting. ”

  They’d all gathered on the quarterdeck to discuss strategy as they got closer to Epirus. Now it was clearly not a good place to hang out. Wind swept frost across the deck. The sea churned beneath them.

  Piper didn’t mind the waves so much. The rocking and pitching reminded her of surfing with her dad off the California coast. But she could tell Hazel wasn’t doing well. The poor girl got seasick even in calm waters. She looked like she was trying to swallow a billiard ball.

  “Need to—” Hazel gagged and pointed below.

  “Yeah, go. ” Nico kissed her cheek, which Piper found surprising. He hardly ever made gestures of affection, even to his sister. He seemed to hate physical contact. Kissing Hazel…it was almost like he was saying good-bye.

  “I’ll walk you down. ” Frank put his arm around Hazel’s waist and helped her to the stairs.

  Piper hoped Hazel would be okay. The last few nights, since that fight with Sciron, they’d had some good talks together. Being the only two girls on board was kind of rough. They’d shared stories, complained about the guys’ gross habits, and shed some tears together about Annabeth. Hazel had told her what it was like to control the Mist, and Piper had been surprised by how much it sounded like using charmspeak. Piper had offered to help her if she could. In return, Hazel had promised to coach her in sword fighting—a skill at which Piper epically sucked. Piper felt like she had a new friend, which was great…assuming they lived long enough to enjoy the friendship.

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