The house of hades, p.40
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       The House of Hades, p.40

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 40

 

  She wondered whether she could make it to the ballista.

  Then her enemies appeared, and she realized that no weapon would be enough.

  Standing amidships was a girl in a flowing dress of white silk, her mane of black hair pinned back with a circlet of diamonds. Her eyes were the color of coffee, but without the warmth.

  Behind her stood her brothers—two young men with purple-feathered wings, stark white hair, and jagged swords of Celestial bronze.

  “So good to see you again, ma chère,” said Khione, the goddess of snow. “It’s time we had a very cold reunion. ”

  PIPER DIDN’T PLAN TO SHOOT BLUEBERRY MUFFINS. The cornucopia must have sensed her distress and thought she and her visitors could use some warm baked goods.

  Half a dozen steamy muffins flew from the horn of plenty like buckshot. It wasn’t the most effective opening attack.

  Khione simply leaned to one side. Most of the muffins sailed past her over the rail. Her brothers, the Boreads, each caught one and began to eat.

  “Muffins,” said the bigger one. Cal, Piper remembered: short for Calais. He was dressed exactly as he had been in Quebec—in cleats, sweatpants, and a red hockey jersey—and had two black eyes and several broken teeth. “Muffins are good. ”

  “Ah, merci,” said the scrawny brother—Zethes, she recalled—who stood on the catapult platform, his purple wings spread. His white hair was still feathered in a horrible Disco Age mullet. The collar of his silk shirt stuck out over his breastplate. His chartreuse polyester pants were grotesquely tight, and his acne had only gotten worse. Despite that, he wriggled his eyebrows and smiled like he was the demigod of pickup artists.

  “I knew the pretty girl would miss me. ” He spoke Québécois French, which Piper translated effortlessly. Thanks to her mom, Aphrodite, the language of love was hardwired into her, though she didn’t want to speak it with Zethes.

  “What are you doing?” Piper demanded. Then, in charmspeak: “Let my friends go. ”

  Zethes blinked. “We should let your friends go. ”

  “Yes,” Cal agreed.

  “No, you idiots!” Khione snapped. “She is charmspeaking. Use your wits. ”

  “Wits…” Cal frowned as if he wasn’t sure what wits were. “Muffins are better. ”

  He stuffed the whole thing in his mouth and began to chew.

  Zethes picked a blueberry off the top of his and nibbled it delicately. “Ah, my beautiful Piper…so long I have waited to see you again. Sadly, my sister is right. We cannot let your friends go. In fact we must take them to Quebec, where they shall be laughed at eternally. I am so sorry, but these are our orders. ”

  “Orders…?”

  Ever since last winter, Piper had expected Khione to show her frosty face sooner or later. When they’d defeated her at the Wolf House in Sonoma, the snow goddess had vowed revenge. But why were Zethes and Cal here? In Quebec, the Boreads had seemed almost friendly—at least compared to their subzero sister.

  “Guys, listen,” Piper said. “Your sister disobeyed Boreas. She’s working with the giants, trying to raise Gaea. She’s planning to take over your father’s throne. ”

  Khione laughed, soft and cold. “Dear Piper McLean. You would manipulate my weak-willed brothers with your charms, like a true daughter of the love goddess. Such a skillful liar. ”

  “Liar?” Piper cried. “You tried to kill us! Zethes, she’s working for Gaea!”

  Zethes winced. “Alas, beautiful girl. We all are working for Gaea now. I fear these orders are from our father, Boreas himself. ”

  “What?” Piper didn’t want to believe it, but Khione’s smug smile told her it was true.

  “At last my father saw the wisdom of my counsel,” Khione purred, “or at least he did before his Roman side began warring with his Greek side. I fear he is quite incapacitated now, but he left me in charge. He has ordered that the forces of the North Wind be used in the service of King Porphyrion, and of course…the Earth Mother. ”

  Piper gulped. “How are you even here?” She gestured at the ice all over the ship. “It’s summer!”

  Khione shrugged. “Our powers grow. The rules of nature are turned upside down. Once the Earth Mother wakes, we shall remake the world as we choose!”

  “With hockey,” Cal said, his mouth still full. “And pizza. And muffins. ”

  “Yes, yes,” Khione sneered. “I had to promise a few things to the big simpleton. And to Zethes—”

  “Oh, my needs are simple. ” Zethes slicked back his hair and winked at Piper. “I should have kept you at our palace when we first met, my dear Piper. But soon we will go there again, together, and I shall romance you most incredibly. ”

  “Thanks, but no thanks,” Piper said. “Now, let Jason go. ”

  She put all her power into the words, and Zethes obeyed. He snapped his fingers. Jason instantly defrosted. He crumpled to the floor, gasping and steaming; but at least he was alive.

  “You imbecile!” Khione thrust out her hand, and Jason refroze, now flat on the deck like a bearskin rug. She wheeled on Zethes. “If you wish the girl as your prize, you must prove you can control her. Not the other way around!”

  “Yes, of course. ” Zethes looked chagrined.

  “As for Jason Grace…” Khione’s brown eyes gleamed. “He and the rest of your friends will join our court of ice statues in Quebec. Jason will grace my throne room. ”

  “Clever,” Piper muttered. “Take you all day to think up that line?”

  At least she knew Jason was still alive, which made Piper a little less panicky. The deep freeze could be reversed. That meant her other friends were probably still alive below deck. She just needed a plan to free them.

  Unfortunately, she wasn’t Annabeth. She wasn’t so good at devising plans on the fly. She needed time to think.

  “What about Leo?” she blurted. “Where did you send him?”

  The snow goddess stepped lightly around Jason, examining him as if he were sidewalk art.

  “Leo Valdez deserved a special punishment,” she said. “I have sent him to a place from which he can never return. ”

  Piper couldn’t breathe. Poor Leo. The idea of never seeing him again almost destroyed her. Khione must’ve seen it in her face.

  “Alas, my dear Piper!” She smiled in triumph. “But it is for the best. Leo could not be tolerated, even as an ice statue…not after he insulted me. The fool refused to rule at my side! And his power over fire…” She shook her head. “He could not be allowed to reach the House of Hades. I’m afraid Lord Clytius likes fire even less than I do. ”

  Piper gripped her dagger.

  Fire, she thought. Thanks for reminding me, you witch.

  She scanned the deck. How to make fire? A box of Greek fire vials was secured by the forward ballista, but that was too far away. Even if she made it without getting frozen, Greek fire would burn everything, including the ship and all her friends. There had to be another way. Her eyes strayed to the prow.

  Oh.

  Festus the figurehead could blow some serious flames. Unfortunately, Leo had switched him off. Piper had no idea how to reactivate him. She would never have time to figure out the right controls at the ship’s console. She had vague memories of Leo tinkering around inside the dragon’s bronze skull, mumbling about a control disk; but even if Piper could make it to the prow, she would have no idea what she was doing.

  Still, some instinct told her Festus was her best chance, if only she could figure out how to convince her captors to let her get close enough…

  “Well!” Khione interrupted her thoughts. “I fear our time together is at a close. Zethes, if you would—”

  “Wait!” Piper said.

  A simple command, and it worked. The Boreads and Khione frowned at her, waiting.

  Piper was fairly sure she could control the brothers with charmspeak, but Khione was a problem. Charmspeak worked poorly if the person wasn’t attracted to you
. It worked poorly on a powerful being like a god. And it worked poorly when your victim knew about charmspeak and was actively on guard against it. All of the above applied to Khione.

  What would Annabeth do?

  Delay, Piper thought. When in doubt, talk some more.

  “You’re afraid of my friends,” she said. “So why not just kill them?”

  Khione laughed. “You are not a god, or you would understand. Death is so short, so…unsatisfying. Your puny mortal souls flit off to the Underworld, and what happens then? The best I can hope for is that you go to the Fields of Punishment or Asphodel, but you demigods are insufferably noble. More likely you will go to Elysium—or get reborn in a new life. Why would I want to reward your friends that way? Why…when I can punish them eternally?”

  “And me?” Piper hated to ask. “Why am I still alive and unfrozen?”

  Khione glanced at her brothers with annoyance. “Zethes has claimed you, for one thing. ”

  “I kiss magnificently,” Zethes promised. “You will see, beautiful one. ”

  The idea made Piper’s stomach churn.

  “But that is not the only reason,” Khione said. “It is because I hate you, Piper. Deeply and truly. Without you, Jason would have stayed with me in Quebec. ”

  “Delusional, much?”

  Khione’s eyes turned as hard as the diamonds in her circlet. “You are a meddler, the daughter of a useless goddess. What can you do alone? Nothing. Of all the seven demigods, you have no purpose, no power. I wish you to stay on this ship, adrift and helpless, while Gaea rises and the world ends. And just to be sure you are well out of the way…”

  She gestured to Zethes, who plucked something from the air—a frozen sphere the size of a softball, covered in icy spikes.

  “A bomb,” Zethes explained, “especially for you, my love. ”

  “Bombs!” Cal laughed. “A good day! Bombs and muffins!”

  “Uh…” Piper lowered her dagger, which seemed even more useless than usual. “Flowers would’ve been fine. ”

  “Oh, it will not kill the pretty girl. ” Zethes frowned. “Well…I am fairly sure of this. But when the fragile container cracks, in…ah, roughly not very long…it will unleash the full force of the northern winds. This ship will be blown very far off course. Very, very far. ”

  “Indeed. ” Khione’s voice prickled with false sympathy. “We will take your friends for our statue collection, then unleash the winds and bid you good-bye! You can watch the end of the world from…well, the end of the world! Perhaps you can charmspeak the fish, and feed yourself with your silly cornucopia. You can pace the deck of this empty ship and watch our victory in the blade of your dagger. When Gaea has arisen and the world you knew is dead, then Zethes can come back and retrieve you for his bride. What will you do to stop us, Piper? A hero? Ha! You are a joke. ”

  Her words stung like sleet, mostly because Piper had had the same thoughts herself. What could she do? How could she save her friends with what she had?

 
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