The lost hero, p.57
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       The Lost Hero, p.57
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         Part #1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 57

 

  “Smoke equals fire,” Jason said. “We’d better hurry. ”

  The Wilderness School had taken Leo on several forced marches. He thought he was in good shape. But climbing a mountain when the earth was trying to swallow his feet was like jogging on a flypaper treadmill.

  In no time, Leo had rolled up the sleeves on his collarless shirt, even though the wind was cold and sharp. He wished Aphrodite had given him walking shorts and some more comfortable shoes, but he was grateful for the Ray-Bans that kept the sun out of his eyes. He slipped his hands into his tool belt and started summoning supplies—gears, a tiny wrench, some strips of bronze. As he walked, he built—not really thinking about it, just fiddling with pieces.

  By the time they neared the crest of the mountain, Leo was the most fashionably dressed sweaty, dirty hero ever. His hands were covered in machine grease.

  The little object he’d made was like a windup toy—the kind that rattles and walks across a coffee table. He wasn’t sure what it could do, but he slipped it into his tool belt.

  He missed his army coat with all its pockets. Even more than that, he missed Festus. He could use a fire-breathing bronze dragon right now. But Leo knew Festus would not be coming back—at least, not in his old form.

  He patted the picture in his pocket—the crayon drawing he’d made at the picnic table under the pecan tree when he was five years old. He remembered Tía Callida singing as he worked, and how upset he’d been when the winds had snatched the picture away. It isn’t time yet, little hero, Tía Callida had told him. Someday, yes. You’ll have your quest. You will find your destiny, and your hard journey will finally make sense.

  Now Aeolus had returned the picture. Leo knew that meant his destiny was getting close; but the journey was as frustrating as this stupid mountain. Every time Leo thought they’d reached the summit, it turned out to be just another ridge with an even higher one behind it.

  First things first, Leo told himself. Survive today. Figure out crayon drawing of destiny later.

  Finally Jason crouched behind a wall of rock. He gestured for the others to do the same. Leo crawled up next to him. Piper had to pull Coach Hedge down.

  “I don’t want to get my outfit dirty!” Hedge complained.

  “Shhh!” Piper said.

  Reluctantly, the satyr knelt.

  Just over the ridge where they were hiding, in the shadow of the mountain’s final crest, was a forested depression about the size of a football field, where the giant Enceladus had set up camp.

  Trees had been cut down to make a towering purple bonfire. The outer rim of the clearing was littered with extra logs and construction equipment—an earthmover; a big crane thing with rotating blades at the end like an electric shaver—must be a tree harvester, Leo thought—and a long metal column with an ax blade, like a sideways guillotine—a hydraulic ax.

  Why a giant needed construction equipment, Leo wasn’t sure. He didn’t see how the creature in front of him could even fit in the driver’s seat. The giant Enceladus was so large, so horrible, Leo didn’t want to look at him.

  But he forced himself to focus on the monster.

  To start with, he was thirty feet tall—easily as tall as the treetops. Leo was sure the giant could’ve seen them behind their ridge, but he seemed intent on the weird purple bonfire, circling it and chanting under his breath. From the waist up, the giant appeared humanoid, his muscular chest clad in bronze armor, decorated with flame designs. His arms were completely ripped. Each of his biceps was bigger than Leo. His skin was bronze but sooty with ash. His face was crudely shaped, like a half-finished clay figure, but his eyes glowed white, and his hair was matted in shaggy dreadlocks down to his shoulders, braided with bones.

  From the waist down, he was even more terrifying. His legs were scaly green, with claws instead of feet—like the forelegs of a dragon. In his hand, Enceladus held a spear the size of a flagpole. Every so often he dipped its tip in the fire, turning the metal molten red.

  “Okay,” Coach Hedge whispered. “Here’s the plan—”

  Leo elbowed him. “You’re not charging him alone!”

  “Aw, c’mon. ”

  Piper choked back a sob. “Look. ”

  Just visible on the other side of the bonfire was a man tied to a post. His head slumped like he was unconscious, so Leo couldn’t make out his face, but Piper didn’t seem to have any doubts.

  “Dad,” she said.

  Leo swallowed. He wished this were a Tristan McLean movie. Then Piper’s dad would be faking unconsciousness. He’d untie his bonds and knock out the giant with some cleverly hidden anti-giant gas. Heroic music would start to play, and Tristan McLean would make his amazing escape, running away in slow motion while the mountainside exploded behind him.

  But this wasn’t a movie. Tristan McLean was half dead and about to be eaten. The only people who could stop it—three fashionably dressed teenaged demigods and a megalomaniac goat.

  “There’s four of us,” Hedge whispered urgently. “And only one of him. ”

  “Did you miss the fact that he’s thirty feet tall?” Leo asked.

  “Okay,” Hedge said. “So you, me, and Jason distract him. Piper sneaks around and frees her dad. ”

  They all looked at Jason.

  “What?” Jason asked. “I’m not the leader. ”

  “Yes,” Piper said. “You are. ”

  They’d never really talked about it, but no one disagreed, not even Hedge. Coming this far had been a team effort, but when it came to a life-and-death decision, Leo knew Jason was the one to ask. Even if he had no memory, Jason had a kind of balance to him. You could just tell he’d been in battles before, and he knew how to keep his cool. Leo wasn’t exactly the trusting type, but he trusted Jason with his life.

  “I hate to say it,” Jason sighed, “but Coach Hedge is right. A distraction is Piper’s best chance. ”

  Not a good chance, Leo thought. Not even a survivable chance. Just their best chance.

  They couldn’t sit there all day and talk about it, though. It had to be close to noon—the giant’s deadline—and the ground was still trying to pull them down. Leo’s knees had already sunk two inches into the dirt.

  Leo looked at the construction equipment and got a crazy idea. He brought out the little toy he’d made on the climb, and he realized what it could do—if he was lucky, which he almost never was.

  “Let’s boogie,” he said. “Before I come to my senses. ”

  THE PLAN WENT WRONG ALMOST IMMEDIATELY. Piper scrambled along the ridge, trying to keep her head down, while Leo, Jason, and Coach Hedge walked straight into the clearing.

  Jason summoned his golden lance. He brandished it over his head and yelled, “Giant!” Which sounded pretty good, and a lot more confident than Leo could’ve managed. He was thinking more along the lines of, “We are pathetic ants! Don’t kill us!”

  Enceladus stopped chanting at the flames. He turned toward them and grinned, revealing fangs like a saber-toothed tiger’s.

  “Well,” the giant rumbled. “What a nice surprise. ”

  Leo didn’t like the sound of that. His hand closed on his windup gadget. He stepped sideways, edging his way toward the bulldozer.

  Coach Hedge shouted, “Let the movie star go, you big ugly cupcake! Or I’m gonna plant my hoof right up your—”

  “Coach,” Jason said. “Shut up. ”

  Enceladus roared with laughter. “I’ve forgotten how funny satyrs are. When we rule the world, I think I’ll keep your kind around. You can entertain me while I eat all the other mortals. ”

  “Is that a compliment?” Hedge frowned at Leo. “I don’t think that was a compliment. ”

  Enceladus opened his mouth wide, and his teeth began to glow.

  “Scatter!” Leo yelled.

  Jason and Hedge dove to the left as the giant blew fire—a furnace blast so hot even Festus would’ve been jealous. Leo dodged behind the bulldozer,
wound up his homemade device, and dropped it into the driver’s seat. Then he ran to the right, heading for the tree harvester.

  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jason rise and charge the giant. Coach Hedge ripped off his canary yellow jacket, which was now on fire, and bleated angrily. “I liked that outfit!” Then he raised his club and charged, too.

  Before they could get very far, Enceladus slammed his spear against the ground. The entire mountain shook.

  The shockwave sent Leo sprawling. He blinked, momentarily stunned. Through a haze of grassfire and bitter smoke, he saw Jason staggering to his feet on the other side of the clearing. Coach Hedge was knocked out cold. He’d fallen forward and hit his head on a log. His furry hindquarters were sticking straight up, with his canary yellow pants around his knees—a view Leo really didn’t need.

  The giant bellowed, “I see you, Piper McLean!” He turned and blew fire at a line of bushes to Leo’s right. Piper ran into the clearing like a flushed quail, the underbrush burning behind her.

  Enceladus laughed. “I’m happy you’ve arrived. And you brought me my prizes!”

  Leo’s gut twisted. This was the moment Piper had warned them about. They’d played right into Enceladus’s hands.

  The giant must’ve read Leo’s expression, because he laughed even louder. “That’s right, son of Hephaestus. I didn’t expect you all to stay alive this long, but it doesn’t matter. By bringing you here, Piper McLean has sealed the deal. If she betrays you, I’m as good as my word. She can take her father and go. What do I care about a movie star?”

  Leo could see Piper’s dad more clearly now. He wore a ragged dress shirt and torn slacks. His bare feet were caked with mud. He wasn’t completely unconscious, because he lifted his head and groaned—yep, Tristan McLean all right. Leo had seen that face in enough movies. But he had a nasty cut down the side of his face, and he looked thin and sickly—not heroic at all.

  “Dad!” Piper yelled.

  Mr. McLean blinked, trying to focus. “Pipes … ? Where …”

  Piper drew her dagger and faced Enceladus. “Let him go!”

  “Of course, dear,” the giant rumbled. “Swear your loyalty to me, and we have no problem. Only these others must die. ”

  Piper looked back and forth between Leo and her dad.

  “He’ll kill you,” Leo warned. “Don’t trust him!”

  “Oh, come now,” Enceladus bellowed. “You know I was born to fight Athena herself? Mother Gaea made each of us giants with a specific purpose, designed to fight and destroy a particular god. I was Athena’s nemesis, the anti-Athena, you might say. Compared to some of my brethren—I am small! But I am clever. And I keep my bargain with you, Piper McLean. It’s part of my plan!”

  Jason was on his feet now, lance ready; but before he could act, Enceladus roared—a call so loud it echoed down the valley and was probably heard all the way to San Francisco.

  At the edge the woods, half a dozen ogre-like creatures rose up. Leo realized with nauseating certainty that they hadn’t simply been hiding there. They’d risen straight out of the earth.

 
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