The lost hero, p.8
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       The Lost Hero, p.8
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         Part #1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 8

 

  “Oh. ” That kind of bummed Piper out. She’d always liked the stories of Artemis, and figured she would make a cool mom.

  “Well, there are the Hunters of Artemis,” Annabeth amended. “They visit sometimes. They’re not the children of Artemis, but they’re her handmaidens—this band of immortal teenage girls who adventure together and hunt monsters and stuff. ”

  Piper perked up. “That sounds cool. They get to be immortal?”

  “Unless they die in combat, or break their vows. Did I mention they have to swear off boys? No dating—ever. For eternity. ”

  “Oh,” Piper said. “Never mind. ”

  Annabeth laughed. For a moment she looked almost happy, and Piper thought she’d be a cool friend to hang out with in better times.

  Forget it, Piper reminded herself. You’re not going to make any friends here. Not once they find out.

  They passed the next cabin, Number Ten, which was decorated like a Barbie house with lace curtains, a pink door, and potted carnations in the windows. They walked by the doorway, and the smell of perfume almost made Piper gag.

  “Gah, is that where supermodels go to die?”

  Annabeth smirked. “Aphrodite’s cabin. Goddess of love. Drew is the head counselor. ”

  “Figures,” Piper grumbled.

  “They’re not all bad,” Annabeth said. “The last head counselor we had was great. ”

  “What happened to her?”

  Annabeth’s expression darkened. “We should keep moving. ”

  They looked at the other cabins, but Piper just got more depressed. She wondered if she could be the daughter of Demeter, the farming goddess. Then again, Piper killed every plant she ever touched. Athena was cool. Or maybe Hecate, the magic goddess. But it didn’t really matter. Even here, where everyone was supposed to find a lost parent, she knew she would still end up the unwanted kid. She was not looking forward to the campfire tonight.

  “We started with the twelve Olympian gods,” Annabeth explained. “Male gods on the left, female on the right. Then last year, we added a whole bunch of new cabins for the other gods who didn’t have thrones on Olympus—Hecate, Hades, Iris—”

  “What are the two big ones on the end?” Piper asked.

  Annabeth frowned. “Zeus and Hera. King and queen of the gods. ”

  Piper headed that way, and Annabeth followed, though she didn’t act very excited. The Zeus cabin reminded Piper of a bank. It was white marble with big columns out front and polished bronze doors emblazoned with lightning bolts.

  Hera’s cabin was smaller but done in the same style, except the doors were carved with peacock feather designs, shimmering in different colors.

  Unlike the other cabins, which were all noisy and open and full of activity, the Zeus and Hera cabins looked closed and silent.

  “Are they empty?” Piper asked.

  Annabeth nodded. “Zeus went a long time without having any children. Well, mostly. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, the eldest brothers among the gods—they’re called the Big Three. Their kids are really powerful, really dangerous. For the last seventy years or so, they tried to avoid having demigod children. ”

  “Tried to avoid it?”

  “Sometimes they … um, cheated. I’ve got a friend, Thalia Grace, who’s the daughter of Zeus. But she gave up camp life and became a Hunter of Artemis. My boyfriend, Percy, he’s a son of Poseidon. And there’s a kid who shows up sometimes, Nico—son of Hades. Except for them, there are no demigod children of the Big Three gods. At least, not that we know of. ”

  “And Hera?” Piper looked at the peacock-decorated doors. The cabin bothered her, though she wasn’t sure why.

  “Goddess of marriage. ” Annabeth’s tone was carefully controlled, like she was trying to avoid cursing. “She doesn’t have kids with anyone but Zeus. So, yeah, no demigods. The cabin’s just honorary. ”

  “You don’t like her,” Piper noticed.

  “We have a long history,” Annabeth admitted. “I thought we’d made peace, but when Percy disappeared … I got this weird dream vision from her. ”

  “Telling you to come get us,” Piper said. “But you thought Percy would be there. ”

  “It’s probably better I don’t talk about it,” Annabeth said. “I’ve got nothing good to say about Hera right now. ”

  Piper looked down the base of the doors. “So who goes in here?”

  “No one. The cabin is just honorary, like I said. No one goes in. ”

  “Someone does. ” Piper pointed at a footprint on the dusty threshold. On instinct, she pushed the doors and they swung open easily.

  Annabeth stepped back. “Um, Piper, I don’t think we should—”

  “We’re supposed to do dangerous stuff, right?” And Piper walked inside.

  Hera’s cabin was not someplace Piper would want to live. It was as cold as a freezer, with a circle of white columns around a central statue of the goddess, ten feet tall, seated on a throne in flowing golden robes. Piper had always thought of Greek statues as white with blank eyes, but this one was brightly painted so it looked almost human—except huge. Hera’s piercing eyes seemed to follow Piper.

  At the goddess’s feet, a fire burned in a bronze brazier. Piper wondered who tended it if the cabin was always empty. A stone hawk sat on Hera’s shoulder, and in her hand was a staff topped with a lotus flower. The goddess’s hair was done in black plaits. Her face smiled, but the eyes were cold and calculating, as if she were saying: Mother knows best. Now don’t cross me or I will have to step on you.

  There was nothing else in the cabin—no beds, no furniture, no bathroom, no windows, nothing that anyone could actually use to live. For a goddess of home and marriage, Hera’s place reminded Piper of a tomb.

  No, this wasn’t her mom. At least Piper was sure of that. She hadn’t come in here because she felt a good connection, but because her sense of dread was stronger here. Her dream—that horrible ultimatum she’d been handed—had something to do with this cabin.

  She froze. They weren’t alone. Behind the statue, at a little altar in the back, stood a figure covered in a black shawl. Only her hands were visible, palms up. She seemed to be chanting something like a spell or a prayer.

  Annabeth gasped. “Rachel?”

  The other girl turned. She dropped her shawl, revealing a mane of curly red hair and a freckled face that didn’t go with the seriousness of the cabin or the black shawl at all. She looked about seventeen, a totally normal teen in a green blouse and tattered jeans covered with marker doodles. Despite the cold floor, she was barefoot.

  “Hey!” She ran to give Annabeth a hug. “I’m so sorry! I came as fast as I could. ”

  They talked for a few minutes about Annabeth’s boyfriend and how there was no news, et cetera, until finally Annabeth remembered Piper, who was standing there feeling uncomfortable.

  “I’m being rude,” Annabeth apologized. “Rachel, this is Piper, one of the half-bloods we rescued today. Piper, this is Rachel Elizabeth Dare, our oracle. ”

  “The friend who lives in the cave,” Piper guessed.

  Rachel grinned. “That’s me. ”

  “So you’re an oracle?” Piper asked. “You can tell the future?”

  “More like the future mugs me from time to time,” Rachel said. “I speak prophecies. The oracle’s spirit kind of hijacks me every once in a while and speaks important stuff that doesn’t make any sense to anybody. But yeah, the prophecies tell the future. ”

  “Oh. ” Piper shifted from foot to foot. “That’s cool. ”

  Rachel laughed. “Don’t worry. Everybody finds it a little creepy. Even me. But usually I’m harmless. ”

  “You’re a demigod?”

  “Nope,” Rachel said. “Just mortal. ”

  “Then what are you …” Piper waved her hand around the room.

  Rachel’s smile faded. She glanced at Annabeth, then back at Piper. “Just a hunch. Something about this cabin and P
ercy’s disappearance. They’re connected somehow. I’ve learned to follow my hunches, especially the last month, since the gods went silent. ”

  “Went silent?” Piper asked.

  Rachel frowned at Annabeth. “You haven’t told her yet?”

  “I was getting to that,” Annabeth said. “Piper, for the last month … well, it’s normal for the gods not to talk to their children very much, but usually we can count on some messages now and then. Some of us can even visit Olympus. I spent practically all semester at the Empire State Building. ”

  “Excuse me?”

  “The entrance to Mount Olympus these days. ”

  “Oh,” Piper said. “Sure, why not?”

  “Annabeth was redesigning Olympus after it was damaged in the Titan War,” Rachel explained. “She’s an amazing architect. You should see the salad bar—”

  “Anyway,” Annabeth said, “starting about a month ago, Olympus fell silent. The entrance closed, and no one could get in. Nobody knows why. It’s like the gods have sealed themselves off. Even my mom won’t answer my prayers, and our camp director, Dionysus, was recalled. ”

  “Your camp director was the god of … wine?”

  “Yeah, it’s a—”

  “Long story,” Piper guessed. “Right. Go on. ”

  “That’s it, really,” Annabeth said. “Demigods still get claimed, but nothing else. No messages. No visits. No sign the gods are even listening. It’s like something has happened —something really bad. Then Percy disappeared. ”

  “And Jason showed up on our field trip,” Piper supplied. “With no memory. ”

  “Who’s Jason?” Rachel asked.

  “My—” Piper stopped herself before she could say “boyfriend,” but the effort made her chest hurt. “My friend. But Annabeth, you said Hera sent you a dream vision. ”

  “Right,” Annabeth said. “The first communication from a god in a month, and it’s Hera, the least helpful goddess, and she contacts me, her least favorite demigod. She tells me I’ll find out what happened to Percy if I go to the Grand Canyon skywalk and look for a guy with one shoe. Instead, I find you guys, and the guy with one shoe is Jason. It doesn’t make sense. ”

  “Something bad is happening,” Rachel agreed. She looked at Piper, and Piper felt an overwhelming desire to tell them about her dream, to confess that she knew what was happening—at least part of the story. And the bad stuff was only beginning.

  “Guys,” she said. “I—I need to—”

  Before she could continue, Rachel’s body stiffened. Her eyes began to glow with a greenish light, and she grabbed Piper by the shoulders.

  Piper tried to back away, but Rachel’s hands were like steel clamps.

  Free me, she said. But it wasn’t Rachel’s voice. It sounded like an older woman, speaking from somewhere far away, down a long, echoing pipe. Free me, Piper McLean, or the earth shall swallow us. It must be by the solstice.

 
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