The house of hades, p.11
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       The House of Hades, p.11
 

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 11

 

  “Eek!” The dwarf jumped free of the explosion, dropping the sphere and letting the pigeons fly.

  “Time to leave!” Akmon decided.

  He tipped his bowler and sprang away, jumping from table to table. Passalos glanced at the Archimedes sphere, which had rolled between Leo’s feet.

  Leo summoned another fireball. “Try me,” he snarled.

  “Bye!” Passalos did a backflip and ran after his brother.

  Leo scooped up the Archimedes sphere and ran over to Jason, who was still hanging upside down, thoroughly hog-tied except for his sword arm. He was trying to cut the cords with his gold blade but having no luck.

  “Hold on,” Leo said. “If I can find a release switch—”

  “Just go!” Jason growled. “I’ll follow you when I get out of this. ”

  “But—”

  “Don’t lose them!”

  The last thing Leo wanted was some alone time with the monkey dwarfs, but the Kerkopes were already disappearing around the far corner of the piazza. Leo left Jason hanging and ran after them.

  THE DWARFS DIDN’T TRY VERY HARD TO LOSE HIM, which made Leo suspicious. They stayed just at the edge of his vision, scampering over red-tiled rooftops, knocking over window boxes, whooping and hollering and leaving a trail of screws and nails from Leo’s tool belt—almost as if they wanted Leo to follow.

  He jogged after them, cursing every time his pants fell down. He turned a corner and saw two ancient stone towers jutting into the sky, side by side, much taller than anything else in the neighborhood—maybe medieval watchtowers? They leaned in different directions like gearshifts on a race car.

  The Kerkopes scaled the tower on the right. When they reached the top, they climbed around the back and disappeared.

  Had they gone inside? Leo could see some tiny windows at the top, covered with metal grates; but he doubted those would stop the dwarfs. He watched for a minute, but the Kerkopes didn’t reappear. Which meant Leo had to get up there and look for them.

  “Great,” he muttered. No flying friend to carry him up. The ship was too far away to call for help. He could jury-rig the Archimedes sphere into some sort of flying device, maybe, but only if he had his tool belt—which he didn’t. He scanned the neighborhood, trying to think. Half a block down, a set of double glass doors opened and an old lady hobbled out, carrying plastic shopping bags.

  A grocery store? Hmm…

  Leo patted his pockets. To his amazement, he still had some euro notes from his time in Rome. Those stupid dwarfs had taken everything except his money.

  He ran for the store as fast as his zipperless pants allowed.

  Leo scoured the aisles, looking for things he could use. He didn’t know the Italian for Hello, where are your dangerous chemicals, please? But that was probably just as well. He didn’t want to end up in an Italian jail.

  Fortunately, he didn’t need to read labels. He could tell just from picking up a toothpaste tube whether it contained potassium nitrate. He found charcoal. He found sugar and baking soda. The store sold matches, and bug spray, and aluminum foil. Pretty much everything he needed, plus a laundry cord he could use as a belt. He added some Italian junk food to the basket, just to sort of disguise his more suspicious purchases, then dumped his stuff at the register. A wide-eyed checkout lady asked him some questions he didn’t understand, but he managed to pay, get a bag, and race out.

  He ducked into the nearest doorway where he could keep an eye on the towers. He started to work, summoning fire to dry out materials and do a little cooking that otherwise would have taken days to complete.

  Every once in a while he sneaked a look at the tower, but there was no sign of the dwarfs. Leo could only hope they were still up there. Making his arsenal took just a few minutes—he was that good—but it felt like hours.

  Jason didn’t show. Maybe he was still tangled at the Neptune fountain, or scouring the streets looking for Leo. No one else from the ship came to help. Probably it was taking them a long time to get all those pink rubber bands out of Coach Hedge’s hair.

  That meant Leo had only himself, his bag of junk food, and a few highly improvised weapons made from sugar and toothpaste. Oh, and the Archimedes sphere. That was kind of important. He hoped he hadn’t ruined it by filling it with chemical powder.

  He ran to the tower and found the entrance. He started up the winding stairs inside, only to be stopped at a ticket booth by some caretaker who yelled at him in Italian.

  “Seriously?” Leo asked. “Look, man, you’ve got dwarfs in your belfry. I’m the exterminator. ” He held up his can of bug spray. “See? Exterminator Molto Buono. Squirt, squirt. Ahhh!” He pantomimed a dwarf melting in terror, which for some reason the Italian didn’t seem to understand.

  The guy just held out his palm for money.

  “Dang, man,” Leo grumbled, “I just spent all my cash on homemade explosives and whatnot. ” He dug around in his grocery bag. “Don’t suppose you’d accept…uh…whatever these are?”

  Leo held up a yellow-and-red bag of junk food called Fonzies. He assumed they were some kind of chips. To his surprise, the caretaker shrugged and took the bag. “Avanti!”

  Leo kept climbing, but he made a mental note to stock up on Fonzies. Apparently they were better than cash in Italy.

  The stairs went on, and on, and on. The whole tower seemed to be nothing but an excuse to build a staircase.

  He stopped on a landing and slumped against a narrow barred window, trying to catch his breath. He was sweating like crazy, and his heart thumped against his ribs. Stupid Kerkopes. Leo figured that as soon as he reached the top, they would jump away before he could use his weapons; but he had to try.

  He kept climbing.

  Finally, his legs feeling like overcooked noodles, he reached the summit.

  The room was about the size of a broom closet, with barred windows on all four walls. Shoved in the corners were sacks of treasure, shiny goodies spilling all over the floor. Leo spotted Piper’s knife, an old leather-bound book, a few interesting-looking mechanical devices, and enough gold to give Hazel’s horse a stomachache.

  At first, he thought the dwarfs had left. Then he looked up. Akmon and Passalos were hanging upside down from the rafters by their chimp feet, playing antigravity poker. When they saw Leo, they threw their cards like confetti and broke out in applause.

  “I told you he’d do it!” Akmon shrieked in delight.

  Passalos shrugged and took off one of his gold watches and handed it to his brother. “You win. I didn’t think he was that dumb. ”

  They both dropped to the floor. Akmon was wearing Leo’s tool belt—he was so close that Leo had to resist the urge to lunge for it.

  Passalos straightened his cowboy hat and kicked open the grate on the nearest window. “What should we make him climb next, brother? The dome of San Luca?”

  Leo wanted to throttle the dwarfs, but he forced a smile. “Oh, that sounds fun! But before you guys go, you forgot something shiny. ”

  “Impossible!” Akmon scowled. “We were very thorough. ”

  “You sure?” Leo held up his grocery bag.

  The dwarfs inched closer. As Leo had hoped, their curiosity was so strong that they couldn’t resist.

  “Look. ” Leo brought out his first weapon—a lump of dried chemicals wrapped in aluminum foil—and lit it with his hand.

  He knew enough to turn away when it popped, but the dwarfs were staring right at it. Toothpaste, sugar, and bug spray weren’t as good as Apollo’s music, but they made for a pretty decent flash-bang.

  The Kerkopes wailed, clawing at their eyes. They stumbled toward the window, but Leo set off his homemade firecrackers—snapping them around the dwarfs’ bare feet to keep them off balance. Then, for good measure, Leo turned the dial on his Archimedes sphere, which unleashed a plume of foul white fog that filled the room.

  Leo wasn’t bothered by smoke. Being immune to fire, he
d stood in smoky bonfires, endured dragon breath, and cleaned out blazing forges plenty of times. While the dwarfs were hacking and wheezing, he grabbed his tool belt from Akmon, calmly summoned some bungee cords, and tied up the dwarfs.

  “My eyes!” Akmon coughed. “My tool belt!”

  “My feet are on fire!” Passalos wailed. “Not shiny! Not shiny at all!”

  After making sure they were securely bound, Leo dragged the Kerkopes into one corner and began rifling through their treasures. He retrieved Piper’s dagger, a few of his prototype grenades, and a dozen other odds and ends the dwarfs had taken from the Argo II.

  “Please!” Akmon wailed. “Don’t take our shinies!”

  “We’ll make you a deal!” Passalos suggested. “We’ll cut you in for ten percent if you let us go!”

  “Afraid not,” Leo muttered. “It’s all mine now. ”

  “Twenty percent!”

  Just then, thunder boomed overhead. Lightning flashed, and the bars on the nearest window burst into sizzling, melted stubs of iron.

  Jason flew in like Peter Pan, electricity sparking around him and his gold sword steaming.

  Leo whistled appreciatively. “Man, you just wasted an awesome entrance. ”

  Jason frowned. He noticed the hog-tied Kerkopes. “What the—”

  “All by myself,” Leo said. “I’m special that way. How did you find me?”

  “Uh, the smoke,” Jason managed. “And I heard popping noises. Were you having a gunfight in here?”

  “Something like that. ” Leo tossed him Piper’s dagger, then kept rummaging through the bags of dwarf shinies. He remembered what Hazel had said about finding a treasure that would help them with the quest, but he wasn’t sure what he was looking for. There were coins, gold nuggets, jewelry, paper clips, foil wrappers, cuff links.

  He kept coming back to a couple of things that didn’t seem to belong. One was an old bronze navigation device, like an astrolabe from a ship. It was badly damaged and seemed to be missing some pieces, but Leo still found it fascinating.

  “Take it!” Passalos offered. “Odysseus made it, you know! Take it and let us go. ”

  “Odysseus?” Jason asked. “Like, the Odysseus?”

  “Yes!” Passalos squeaked. “Made it when he was an old man in Ithaca. One of his last inventions, and we stole it!”

  “How does it work?” Leo asked.

  “Oh, it doesn’t,” Akmon said. “Something about a missing crystal?” He glanced at his brother for help.

  “‘My biggest what-if,’” Passalos said. “‘Should’ve taken a crystal. ’ That’s what he kept muttering in his sleep, the night we stole it. ” Passalos shrugged. “No idea what he meant. But the shiny is yours! Can we go now?”

  Leo wasn’t sure why he wanted the astrolabe. It was obviously broken, and he didn’t get the sense that this was what Hecate meant for them to find. Still, he slipped it into one of his tool belt’s magic pockets.

  He turned his attention to the other strange piece of loot—the leather-bound book. Its title was in gold leaf, in a language Leo couldn’t understand, but nothing else about the book seemed shiny. He didn’t figure the Kerkopes for big readers.

 
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