The house of hades, p.21
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       The House of Hades, p.21
 

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 21

 

  The idea made Annabeth giddy with homesickness. At every meal, the campers would burn a portion of their food to honor their godly parents. The smoke supposedly pleased the gods, but Annabeth had never thought about where the food went when it was burned. Maybe the offerings reappeared on the gods’ altars in Olympus…or even here, in the middle of Tartarus.

  “Peanut M&M’s,” Annabeth said. “Connor Stoll always burned a pack for his dad at dinner. ”

  She thought about sitting in the dining pavilion, watching the sunset over Long Island Sound. That was the first place she and Percy had truly kissed. Her eyes smarted.

  Percy put his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, this is good. Actual food from home, right?”

  She nodded. They finished eating in silence.

  Bob chomped down the last of his M&M’s. “Should go now. They will be here in a few minutes. ”

  “A few minutes?” Annabeth reached for her dagger, then remembered she didn’t have it.

  “Yes…well, I think minutes…” Bob scratched his silvery hair. “Time is hard in Tartarus. Not the same. ”

  Percy crept to the edge of the crater. He peered back the way they’d come. “I don’t see anything, but that doesn’t mean much. Bob, which giants are we talking about? Which Titans?”

  Bob grunted. “Not sure of names. Six, maybe seven. I can sense them. ”

  “Six or seven?” Annabeth wasn’t sure her barbecue would stay down. “And can they sense you?”

  “Don’t know. ” Bob smiled. “Bob is different! But they can smell demigods, yes. You two smell very strong. Good strong. Like…hmm. Like buttery bread!”

  “Buttery bread,” Annabeth said. “Well, that’s great. ”

  Percy climbed back to the altar. “Is it possible to kill a giant in Tartarus? I mean, since we don’t have a god to help us?”

  He looked at Annabeth as if she actually had an answer.

  “Percy, I don’t know. Traveling in Tartarus, fighting monsters here…it’s never been done before. Maybe Bob could help us kill a giant? Maybe a Titan would count as a god? I just don’t know. ”

  “Yeah,” Percy said. “Okay. ”

  She could see the worry in his eyes. For years, he’d depended on her for answers. Now, when he needed her most, she couldn’t help. She hated being so clueless, but nothing she’d ever learned at camp had prepared her for Tartarus. There was only one thing she was sure of: they had to keep moving. They couldn’t be caught by six or seven hostile immortals.

  She stood, still disoriented from her nightmares. Bob started cleaning up, collecting their trash in a little pile, using his squirt bottle to wipe off the altar.

  “Where to now?” Annabeth asked.

  Percy pointed at the stormy wall of darkness. “Bob says that way. Apparently the Doors of Death—”

  “You told him?” Annabeth didn’t mean it to come out so harsh, but Percy winced.

  “While you were asleep,” he admitted. “Annabeth, Bob can help. We need a guide. ”

  “Bob helps!” Bob agreed. “Into the Dark Lands. The Doors of Death…hmm, walking straight to them would be bad. Too many monsters gathered there. Even Bob could not sweep that many. They would kill Percy and Annabeth in about two seconds. ” The Titan frowned. “I think seconds. Time is hard in Tartarus. ”

  “Right,” Annabeth grumbled. “So is there another way?”

  “Hiding,” said Bob. “The Death Mist could hide you. ”

  “Oh…” Annabeth suddenly felt very small in the shadow of the Titan. “Uh, what is Death Mist?”

  “It is dangerous,” Bob said. “But if the lady will give you Death Mist, it might hide you. If we can avoid Night. The lady is very close to Night. That is bad. ”

  “The lady,” Percy repeated.

  “Yes. ” Bob pointed ahead of them into the inky blackness. “We should go. ”

  Percy glanced at Annabeth, obviously hoping for guidance, but she had none. She was thinking about her nightmare—Thalia’s tree splintered by lightning, Gaea rising on the hillside and unleashing her monsters on Camp Half-Blood.

  “Okay, then,” Percy said. “I guess we’ll see a lady about some Death Mist. ”

  “Wait,” Annabeth said.

  Her mind was buzzing. She thought of her dream about Luke and Thalia. She recalled the stories Luke had told her about his father, Hermes—god of travelers, guide to the spirits of the dead, god of communication.

  She stared at the black altar.

  “Annabeth?” Percy sounded concerned.

  She walked to the pile of trash and picked out a reasonably clean paper napkin.

  She remembered her vision of Reyna, standing in the smoking crevice beneath the ruins of Thalia’s pine tree, speaking with the voice of Athena:

  I must stand here. The Roman must bring me.

  Hurry. The message must be sent.

  “Bob,” she said, “offerings burned in the mortal world appear on this altar, right?”

  Bob frowned uncomfortably, like he wasn’t ready for a pop quiz. “Yes?”

  “So what happens if I burn something on the altar here?”

  “Uh…”

  “That’s all right,” Annabeth said. “You don’t know. Nobody knows, because it’s never been done. ”

  There was a chance, she thought, just the slimmest chance that an offering burned on this altar might appear at Camp Half-Blood.

  Doubtful, but if it did work…

  “Annabeth?” Percy said again. “You’re planning something. You’ve got that I’m-planning-something look. ”

  “I don’t have an I’m-planning-something look. ”

  “Yeah, you totally do. Your eyebrows knit and your lips press together and—”

  “Do you have a pen?” she asked him.

  “You’re kidding, right?” He brought out Riptide.

  “Yes, but can you actually write with it?”

  “I—I don’t know,” he admitted. “Never tried. ”

  He uncapped the pen. As usual, it sprang into a full-sized sword. Annabeth had watched him do this hundreds of times. Normally when he fought, Percy simply discarded the cap. It always appeared in his pocket later, as needed. When he touched the cap to the point of the sword, it would turn back into a ballpoint pen.

  “What if you touch the cap to the other end of the sword?” Annabeth said. “Like where you’d put the cap if you were actually going to write with the pen. ”

  “Uh…” Percy looked doubtful, but he touched the cap to the hilt of the sword. Riptide shrank back into a ballpoint pen, but now the writing point was exposed.

  “May I?” Annabeth plucked it from his hand. She flattened the napkin against the altar and began to write. Riptide’s ink glowed Celestial bronze.

  “What are you doing?” Percy asked.

  “Sending a message,” Annabeth said. “I just hope Rachel gets it. ”

  “Rachel?” Percy asked. “You mean our Rachel? Oracle of Delphi Rachel?”

  “That’s the one. ” Annabeth suppressed a smile.

  Whenever she brought up Rachel’s name, Percy got nervous. At one point, Rachel had been interested in dating Percy. That was ancient history. Rachel and Annabeth were good friends now. But Annabeth didn’t mind making Percy a little uneasy. You had to keep your boyfriend on his toes.

  Annabeth finished her note and folded the napkin. On the outside, she wrote:

  Connor,

  Give this to Rachel. Not a prank. Don’t be a moron.

  Love,

  Annabeth

  She took a deep breath. She was asking Rachel Dare to do something ridiculously dangerous, but it was the only way she could think of to communicate with the Romans—the only way that might avoid bloodshed.

  “Now I just need to burn it,” she said. “Anybody got a match?”

  The point of Bob’s spear shot from his broom handle. It sparked against the altar and erupted in silvery fire.

 
Uh, thanks. ” Annabeth lit the napkin and set it on the altar. She watched it crumble to ash and wondered if she was crazy. Could the smoke really make it out of Tartarus?

  “We should go now,” Bob advised. “Really, really go. Before we are killed. ”

  Annabeth stared at the wall of blackness in front of them. Somewhere in there was a lady who dispensed a Death Mist that might hide them from monsters—a plan recommended by a Titan, one of their bitterest enemies. Another dose of weirdness to explode her brain.

  “Right,” she said. “I’m ready. ”

  ANNABETH LITERALLY STUMBLED over the second Titan.

  After entering the storm front, they plodded on for what seemed like hours, relying on the light of Percy’s Celestial bronze blade, and on Bob, who glowed faintly in the dark like some sort of crazy janitor angel.

  Annabeth could only see about five feet in front of her. In a strange way, the Dark Lands reminded her of San Francisco, where her dad lived—on those summer afternoons when the fog bank rolled in like cold, wet packing material and swallowed Pacific Heights. Except here in Tartarus, the fog was made of ink.

  Rocks loomed out of nowhere. Pits appeared at their feet, and Annabeth barely avoided falling in. Monstrous roars echoed in the gloom, but Annabeth couldn’t tell where they came from. All she could be certain of was that the terrain was still sloping down.

  Down seemed to be the only direction allowed in Tartarus. If Annabeth backtracked even a step, she felt tired and heavy, as if gravity were increasing to discourage her. Assuming that the entire pit was the body of Tartarus, Annabeth had a nasty feeling they were marching straight down his throat.

  She was so preoccupied with that thought, she didn’t notice the ledge until it was too late.

  Percy yelled, “Whoa!” He grabbed for her arm, but she was already falling.

  Fortunately, it was only a shallow depression. Most of it was filled with a monster blister. She had a soft landing on a warm bouncy surface and was feeling lucky—until she opened her eyes and found herself staring through a glowing gold membrane at another, much larger face.

  She screamed and flailed, toppling sideways off the mound. Her heart did a hundred jumping jacks.

  Percy helped her to her feet. “You okay?”

  She didn’t trust herself to answer. If she opened her mouth, she might scream again, and that would be undignified. She was a daughter of Athena, not some shrill girlie victim in a horror movie.

  But gods of Olympus… Curled in the membrane bubble in front of her was a fully formed Titan in golden armor, his skin the color of polished pennies. His eyes were closed, but he scowled so deeply he appeared to be on the verge of a bloodcurdling war cry. Even through the blister, Annabeth could feel the heat radiating from his body.

  “Hyperion,” Percy said. “I hate that guy. ”

  Annabeth’s shoulder suddenly ached from an old wound. During the Battle of Manhattan, Percy had fought this Titan at the Reservoir—water against fire. It had been the first time Percy had summoned a hurricane—which wasn’t something Annabeth would ever forget. “I thought Grover turned this guy into a maple tree. ”

 
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