The house of hades, p.9
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       The House of Hades, p.9

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 9


  “Some pilgrims found nothing,” Nico said. “Some went insane, or died after leaving the temple. Others lost their way in the tunnels and were never seen again. ”

  “The point is,” Jason said quickly, “Nico found some information that might help us. ”

  “Yeah. ” Nico didn’t sound very enthusiastic. “The ghost I spoke to last night…he was a former priest of Hecate. He confirmed what the goddess told Hazel yesterday at the crossroads. In the first war with the giants, Hecate fought for the gods. She slew one of the giants—one who’d been designed as the anti-Hecate. A guy named Clytius. ”

  “Dark dude,” Leo guessed. “Wrapped in shadows. ”

  Hazel turned toward him, her gold eyes narrowing. “Leo, how did you know that?”

  “Kind of had a dream. ”

  No one looked surprised. Most demigods had vivid nightmares about what was going on in the world.

  His friends paid close attention as Leo explained. He tried not to look at the wall images of Camp Half-Blood as he described the place in ruins. He told them about the dark giant, and the strange woman on Half-Blood Hill, offering him a multiple-choice death.

  Jason pushed away his plate of pancakes. “So the giant is Clytius. I suppose he’ll be waiting for us, guarding the Doors of Death. ”

  Frank rolled up one of the pancakes and started munching—not a guy to let impending death stand in the way of a hearty breakfast. “And the woman in Leo’s dream?”

  “She’s my problem. ” Hazel passed a diamond between her fingers in a sleight of hand. “Hecate mentioned a formidable enemy in the House of Hades—a witch who couldn’t be defeated except by me, using magic. ”

  “Do you know magic?” Leo asked.

  “Not yet. ”

  “Ah. ” He tried to think of something hopeful to say, but he recalled the angry woman’s eyes, the way her steely grip made his skin smoke. “Any idea who she is?”

  Hazel shook her head. “Only that…” She glanced at Nico, and some sort of silent argument happened between them. Leo got the feeling that the two of them had had private conversations about the House of Hades, and they weren’t sharing all the details. “Only that she won’t be easy to defeat. ”

  “But there is some good news,” Nico said. “The ghost I talked to explained how Hecate defeated Clytius in the first war. She used her torches to set his hair on fire. He burned to death. In other words, fire is his weakness. ”

  Everybody looked at Leo.

  “Oh,” he said. “Okay. ”

  Jason nodded encouragingly, like this was great news—like he expected Leo to walk up to a towering mass of darkness, shoot a few fireballs, and solve all their problems. Leo didn’t want to bring him down, but he could still hear Gaea’s voice: He is the void that consumes all magic, the cold that consumes all fire, the silence that consumes all speech.

  Leo was pretty sure it would take more than a few matches to set that giant ablaze.

  “It’s a good lead,” Jason insisted. “At least we know how to kill the giant. And this sorceress…well, if Hecate believes Hazel can defeat her, then so do I. ”

  Hazel dropped her eyes. “Now we just have to reach the House of Hades, battle our way through Gaea’s forces—”

  “Plus a bunch of ghosts,” Nico added grimly. “The spirits in that temple may not be friendly. ”

  “—and find the Doors of Death,” Hazel continued. “Assuming we can somehow arrive at the same time as Percy and Annabeth and rescue them. ”

  Frank swallowed a bite of pancake. “We can do it. We have to. ”

  Leo admired the big guy’s optimism. He wished he shared it.

  “So, with this detour,” Leo said, “I’m estimating four or five days to arrive at Epirus, assuming no delays for, you know, monster attacks and stuff. ”

  Jason smiled sourly. “Yeah. Those never happen. ”

  Leo looked at Hazel. “Hecate told you that Gaea was planning her big Wake Up party on August first, right? The Feast of Whatever?”

  “Spes,” Hazel said. “The goddess of hope. ”

  Jason turned his fork. “Theoretically, that leaves us enough time. It’s only July fifth. We should be able to close the Doors of Death, then find the giants’ HQ and stop them from waking Gaea before August first. ”

  “Theoretically,” Hazel agreed. “But I’d still like to know how we make our way through the House of Hades without going insane or dying. ”

  Nobody volunteered any ideas.

  Frank set down his pancake roll like it suddenly didn’t taste so good. “It’s July fifth. Oh, jeez, I hadn’t even thought of that. …”

  “Hey, man, it’s cool,” Leo said. “You’re Canadian, right? I didn’t expect you to get me an Independence Day present or anything…unless you wanted to. ”

  “It’s not that. My grandmother…she always told me that seven was an unlucky number. It was a ghost number. She didn’t like it when I told her there would be seven demigods on our quest. And July is the seventh month. ”

  “Yeah, but…” Leo tapped his fingers nervously on the table. He realized he was doing the Morse code for I love you, the way he used to do with his mom, which would have been pretty embarrassing if his friends understood Morse code. “But that’s just coincidence, right?”

  Frank’s expression didn’t reassure him.

  “Back in China,” Frank said, “in the old days, people called the seventh month the ghost month. That’s when the spirit world and the human world were closest. The living and the dead could go back and forth. Tell me it’s a coincidence we’re searching for the Doors of Death during the ghost month. ”

  No one spoke.

  Leo wanted to think that an old Chinese belief couldn’t have anything to do with the Romans and the Greeks. Totally different, right? But Frank’s existence was proof that the cultures were tied together. The Zhang family went all the way back to Ancient Greece. They’d found their way through Rome and China and finally to Canada.

  Also, Leo kept thinking about his meeting with the revenge goddess Nemesis at the Great Salt Lake. Nemesis had called him the seventh wheel, the odd man out on the quest. She didn’t mean seventh as in ghost, did she?

  Jason pressed his hands against the arms of his chair. “Let’s focus on the things we can deal with. We’re getting close to Bologna. Maybe we’ll get more answers once we find these dwarfs that Hecate—”

  The ship lurched as if it had hit an iceberg. Leo’s breakfast plate slid across the table. Nico fell backward out of his chair and banged his head against the sideboard. He collapsed on the floor, with a dozen magic goblets and platters crashing down on top of him.

  “Nico!” Hazel ran to help him.

  “What—?” Frank tried to stand, but the ship pitched in the other direction. He stumbled into the table and went face-first into Leo’s plate of scrambled eggs.

  “Look!” Jason pointed at the walls. The images of Camp Half-Blood were flickering and changing.

  “Not possible,” Leo murmured.

  No way those enchantments could show anything other than scenes from camp, but suddenly a huge, distorted face filled the entire port-side wall: crooked yellow teeth, a scraggly red beard, a warty nose, and two mismatched eyes—one much larger and higher than the other. The face seemed to be trying to eat its way into the room.

  The other walls flickered, showing scenes from above deck. Piper stood at the helm, but something was wrong. From the shoulders down she was wrapped in duct tape, her mouth gagged and her legs bound to the control console.

  At the mainmast, Coach Hedge was similarly bound and gagged, while a bizarre-looking creature—a sort of gnome/chimpanzee combo with poor fashion sense—danced around him, doing the coach’s hair in tiny pigtails with pink rubber bands.

  On the port-side wall, the huge ugly face receded so that Leo could see the entire creature—another gnome chimp, in even crazier clothes. This one began leaping around the deck,
stuffing things in a burlap bag—Piper’s dagger, Leo’s Wii controllers. Then he pried the Archimedes sphere out of the command console.

  “No!” Leo yelled.

  “Uhhh,” Nico groaned from the floor.

  “Piper!” Jason cried.

  “Monkey!” Frank yelled.

  “Not monkeys,” Hazel grumbled. “I think those are dwarfs. ”

  “Stealing my stuff!” Leo yelled, and he ran for the stairs.

  LEO WAS VAGUELY AWARE OF HAZEL SHOUTING, “Go! I’ll take care of Nico!”

  As if Leo was going to turn back. Sure, he hoped di Angelo was okay, but he had headaches of his own.

  Leo bounded up the steps, with Jason and Frank behind him.

  The situation on deck was even worse than he’d feared.

  Coach Hedge and Piper were struggling against their duct tape bonds while one of the demon monkey dwarfs danced around the deck, picking up whatever wasn’t tied down and sticking it in his bag. He was maybe four feet tall, even shorter than Coach Hedge, with bowed legs and chimp-like feet, his clothes so loud they gave Leo vertigo. His green-plaid pants were pinned at the cuffs, and held up with bright-red suspenders over a striped pink-and-black woman’s blouse. He wore half a dozen gold watches on each arm, and a zebra-patterned cowboy hat with a price tag dangling from the brim. His skin was covered with patches of scraggly red fur, though ninety percent of his body hair seemed to be concentrated in his magnificent eyebrows.

  Leo was just forming the thought Where’s the other dwarf? when he heard a click behind him and realized he’d led his friends into a trap.

  “Duck!” He hit the deck as the explosion blasted his eardrums.

  Note to self, Leo thought groggily. Do not leave boxes of magic grenades where dwarfs can reach them.

  At least he was alive. Leo had been experimenting with all sorts of weapons based on the Archimedes sphere that he’d recovered in Rome. He’d built grenades that could spray acid, fire, shrapnel, or freshly buttered popcorn. (Hey, you never knew when you’d get hungry in battle. ) Judging from the ringing in Leo’s ears, the dwarf had detonated the flash-bang grenade, which Leo had filled with a rare vial of Apollo’s music, pure liquid extract. It didn’t kill, but it left Leo feeling like he’d just done a belly flop off the deep end.

  He tried to get up. His limbs were useless. Someone was tugging at his waist, maybe a friend trying to help him up? No. His friends didn’t smell like heavily perfumed monkey cages.

  He managed to turn over. His vision was out of focus and tinted pink, like the world had been submerged in strawberry jelly. A grinning, grotesque face loomed over him. The brown-furred dwarf was dressed even worse than his friend, in a green bowler hat like a leprechaun’s, dangly diamond earrings, and a white-and-black referee’s shirt. He showed off the prize he’d just stolen—Leo’s tool belt—then danced away.

  Leo tried to grab him, but his fingers were numb. The dwarf frolicked over to the nearest ballista, which his red-furred friend was priming to launch.

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