The house of hades, p.41
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       The House of Hades, p.41

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 41

 

  She came close to snapping—flying at her enemies in a rage and getting herself killed.

  She looked at Khione’s smug expression and she realized the goddess was hoping for that. She wanted Piper to break. She wanted entertainment.

  Piper’s spine turned to steel. She remembered the girls who used to make fun of her at the Wilderness School. She remembered Drew, the cruel head counselor she had replaced in Aphrodite’s cabin; and Medea, who had charmed Jason and Leo in Chicago; and Jessica, her dad’s old assistant, who had always treated her like a useless brat. All her life, Piper had been looked down upon, told she was useless.

  It has never been true, another voice whispered—a voice that sounded like her mother’s. Each of them berated you because they feared you and envied you. So does Khione. Use that!

  Piper didn’t feel like it, but she managed a laugh. She tried it again, and the laughter came more easily. Soon she was doubled over, giggling and snorting.

  Calais joined in, until Zethes elbowed him.

  Khione’s smile wavered. “What? What is so funny? I have doomed you!”

  “Doomed me!” Piper laughed again. “Oh, gods…sorry. ” She took a shaky breath and tried to stop giggling. “Oh, boy…okay. You really think I’m powerless? You really think I’m useless? Gods of Olympus, your brain must have freezer burn. You don’t know my secret, do you?”

  Khione’s eyes narrowed.

  “You have no secret,” she said. “You are lying. ”

  “Okay, whatever,” Piper said. “Yeah, go ahead and take my friends. Leave me here…useless. ” She snorted. “Yeah. Gaea will be really pleased with you. ”

  Snow swirled around the goddess. Zethes and Calais glanced at each other nervously.

  “Sister,” Zethes said, “if she really has some secret—”

  “Pizza?” Cal speculated. “Hockey?”

  “—then we must know,” Zethes continued.

  Khione obviously didn’t buy it. Piper tried to keep a straight face, but she made her eyes dance with mischief and humor.

  Go ahead, she dared. Call my bluff.

  “What secret?” Khione demanded. “Reveal it to us!”

  Piper shrugged. “Suit yourself. ” She pointed casually toward the prow. “Follow me, ice people. ”

  SHE PUSHED BETWEEN THE BOREADS, which was like walking through a meat freezer. The air around them was so cold, it burned her face. She felt like she was breathing pure snow.

  Piper tried not to look down at Jason’s frozen body as she passed. She tried not to think about her friends below, or Leo shot into the sky to a place of no return. She definitely tried not to think about the Boreads and the snow goddess who were following her.

  She fixed her eyes on the figurehead.

  The ship rocked under her feet. A single gust of summer air made it through the chill, and Piper breathed it in, taking it as a good omen. It was still summer out there. Khione and her brothers did not belong here.

  Piper knew she couldn’t win a straight fight against Khione and two winged guys with swords. She wasn’t as clever as Annabeth, or as good at problem solving as Leo. But she did have power. And she intended to use it.

  Last night, during her talk with Hazel, Piper had realized that the secret of charmspeak was a lot like using the Mist. In the past, Piper had had a lot of trouble making her charms work, because she always ordered her enemies to do what she wanted. She would yell Don’t kill us when the monster’s fondest wish was to kill them. She would put all her power into her voice and hope it was enough to overwhelm her enemy’s will.

  Sometimes it worked, but it was exhausting and unreliable. Aphrodite wasn’t about head-on confrontation. Aphrodite was about subtlety and guile and charm. Piper decided she shouldn’t focus on making people do what she wanted. She needed to push them to do the things they wanted.

  A great theory, if she could make it work. …

  She stopped at the foremast and faced Khione. “Wow, I just realized why you hate us so much,” she said, filling her voice with pity. “We humiliated you pretty badly in Sonoma. ”

  Khione’s eyes glinted like iced espresso. She shot an uneasy look at her brothers.

  Piper laughed. “Oh, you didn’t tell them!” she guessed. “I don’t blame you. You had a giant king on your side, plus an army of wolves and Earthborn, and you still couldn’t beat us. ”

  “Silence!” the goddess hissed.

  The air turned misty. Piper felt frost gathering on her eyebrows and freezing her ear canals, but she feigned a smile.

  “Whatever. ” She winked at Zethes. “But it was pretty funny. ”

  “The beautiful girl must be lying,” Zethes said. “Khione was not beaten at the Wolf House. She said it was a…ah, what is the term? A tactical retreat. ”

  “Treats?” Cal asked. “Treats are good. ”

  Piper pushed the big guy’s chest playfully. “No, Cal. He means that your sister ran away. ”

  “I did not!” Khione shrieked.

  “What did Hera call you?” Piper mused. “Right—a D-list goddess!”

  She burst out laughing again, and her amusement was so genuine, Zethes and Cal started laughing too.

  “That is très bon!” Zethes said. “A D-list goddess. Ha!”

  “Ha!” Cal said. “Sister ran away! Ha!”

  Khione’s white dress began to steam. Ice formed over Zethes’s and Cal’s mouths, plugging them up.

  “Show us this secret of yours, Piper McLean,” Khione growled. “Then pray I leave you on this ship intact. If you are toying with us, I will show you the horrors of frostbite. I doubt Zethes will still want you if you have no fingers or toes…perhaps no nose or ears. ”

  Zethes and Cal spat the ice plugs out of their mouths.

  “The pretty girl would look less pretty without a nose,” Zethes admitted.

  Piper had seen pictures of frostbite victims. The threat terrified her, but she didn’t let it show.

  “Come on, then. ” She led the way to the prow, humming one of her dad’s favorite songs—“Summertime. ”

  When she got to the figurehead, she put her hand on Festus’s neck. His bronze scales were cold. There was no hum of machinery. His ruby eyes were dull and dark.

  “You remember our dragon?” Piper asked.

  Khione scoffed. “This cannot be your secret. The dragon is broken. Its fire is gone. ”

  “Well, yes…” Piper stroked the dragon’s snout.

  She didn’t have Leo’s power to make gears turn or circuits spark. She couldn’t sense anything about the workings of a machine. All she could do was speak her heart and tell the dragon what he most wanted to hear. “But Festus is more than a machine. He’s a living creature. ”

  “Ridiculous,” the goddess spat. “Zethes, Cal—gather the frozen demigods from below. Then we shall break open the sphere of winds. ”

  “You could do that, boys,” Piper agreed. “But then you wouldn’t see Khione humiliated. I know you’d like that. ”

  The Boreads hesitated.

  “Hockey?” Cal asked.

  “Almost as good,” Piper promised. “You fought at the side of Jason and the Argonauts, didn’t you? On a ship like this, the first Argo. ”

  “Yes,” Zethes agreed. “The Argo. Much like this, but we did not have a dragon. ”

  “Don’t listen to her!” Khione snapped.

  Piper felt ice forming on her lips.

  “You could shut me up,” she said quickly. “But you want to know my secret power—how I will destroy you, and Gaea, and the giants. ”

  Hatred seethed in Khione’s eyes, but she withheld her frost.

  “You—have—no—power,” she insisted.

  “Spoken like a D-list goddess,” Piper said. “One who never gets taken seriously, who always wants more power. ”

  She turned to Festus and ran her hand behind his metal ears. “You’re a good friend, Festus. No one can truly deac
tivate you. You’re more than a machine. Khione doesn’t understand that. ”

  She turned to the Boreads. “She doesn’t value you, either, you know. She thinks she can boss you around because you’re demigods, not full-fledged gods. She doesn’t understand that you’re a powerful team. ”

  “A team,” Cal grunted. “Like the Ca-na-di-ens. ”

  He had to struggle with the word since it was more than two syllables. He grinned and looked very pleased with himself.

  “Exactly,” Piper said. “Just like a hockey team. The whole is greater than the parts. ”

  “Like a pizza,” Cal added.

  Piper laughed. “You are smart, Cal! Even I underestimated you. ”

  “Wait, now,” Zethes protested. “I am smart also. And good-looking. ”

  “Very smart,” Piper agreed, ignoring the good-looking part. “So put down the wind bomb, and watch Khione get humiliated. ”

  Zethes grinned. He crouched and rolled the ice sphere across the deck.

  “You fool!” Khione yelled.

  Before the goddess could go after the sphere, Piper cried, “Our secret weapon, Khione! We’re not just a bunch of demigods. We’re a team. Just like Festus isn’t only a collection of parts. He’s alive. He’s my friend. And when his friends are in trouble, especially Leo, he can wake up on his own. ”

  She willed all her confidence into her voice—all her love for the metal dragon and everything he’d done for them.

  The rational part of her knew this was hopeless. How could you start a machine with emotions?

  But Aphrodite wasn’t rational. She ruled through emotions. She was the oldest and most primordial of the Olympians, born from the blood of Ouranos churning in the sea. Her power was more ancient than that of Hephaestus, or Athena, or even Zeus.

  For a terrible moment, nothing happened. Khione glared at her. The Boreads began to come out of their daze, looking disappointed.

  “Never mind our plan,” Khione snarled. “Kill her!”

  As the Boreads raised their swords, the dragon’s metal skin grew warm under Piper’s hand. She dove out of the way, tackling the snow goddess, as Festus turned his head one hundred and eighty degrees and blasted the Boreads, vaporizing them on the spot. For some reason, Zethes’s sword was spared. It clunked to the deck, still steaming.

  Piper scrambled to her feet. She spotted the sphere of winds at the base of the foremast. She ran for it, but before she could get close, Khione materialized in front of her in a swirl of frost. Her skin glowed bright enough to cause snow blindness.

  “You miserable girl,” she hissed. “You think you can defeat me—a goddess?”

  At Piper’s back, Festus roared and blew steam, but Piper knew he couldn’t breathe fire again without hitting her too.

  About twenty feet behind the goddess, the ice sphere began to crack and hiss.

  Piper was out of time for subtlety. She yelled and raised her dagger, charging the goddess.

  Khione grabbed her wrist. Ice spread over Piper’s arm. The blade of Katoptris turned white.

 
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