The son of neptune, p.25
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       The Son of Neptune, p.25

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 25

 

  He uncovered the boat, his hands working the knots like he’d been doing it his whole life. Under the tarp was an old steel rowboat with no oars. The boat had been painted dark blue at one point, but the hull was so crusted with tar and salt it looked like one massive nautical bruise.

  On the bow, the name Pax was still readable, lettered in gold. Painted eyes drooped sadly at the water level, as if the boat were about to fall asleep. On board were two benches, some steel wool, an old cooler, and a mound of frayed rope with one end tied to the mooring. At the bottom of the boat, aplastic bag and two empty Coke cans floated in several inches of scummy water.

  “Behold,” Frank said. “The mighty Roman navy. ”

  “There’s got to be a mistake,” Hazel said. “This is a piece of junk. ”

  Percy imagined Octavian laughing at them, but he decided not to let it get him down. The Pax was still a boat. He jumped aboard, and the hull hummed under his feet, responding to his presence. He gathered up the garbage in the cooler and put it on the dock. He willed the scummy water to flow over the sides and out of the boat. Then he pointed at the steel wool and it flew across the floor, scrubbing and polishing so fast, the steel began to smoke. When it was done, the boat was clean. Percy pointed at the rope, and it untied itself from the dock.

  No oars, but that didn’t matter. Percy could tell that the boat was ready to move, just awaiting his command.

  “This’ll do,” he said. “Hop in. ”

  Hazel and Frank looked a little stunned, but they climbed aboard. Hazel seemed especially nervous. When they had settled on the seats, Percy concentrated, and the boat slipped away from the dock.

  Juno was right, you know. The sleepy voice of Gaea whispered in Percy’s mind, startling him so badly the boat rocked. You could have chosen a new life in the sea. You would have been safe from me there. Now it’s too late. You chose pain and misery. You’re part of my plan, now—my important little pawn.

  “Get off my ship,” Percy growled.

  “Uh, what?” Frank asked.

  Percy waited, but the voice of Gaea was silent.

  “Nothing,” he said. “Let’s see what this rowboat can do. ”

  He turned the boat to the north, and in no time they were speeding along at fifteen knots, heading for the Golden Gate Bridge.

  XVII Hazel

  HAZEL HATED BOATS.

  She got seasick so easily, it was more like sea plague. She hadn’t mentioned this to Percy. She didn’t want to mess up the quest, but she remembered how horrible her life had been when she and her mother had moved to Alaska—no roads. Everywhere they went, they’d had to take the train or a boat.

  She hoped her condition might have improved since she’d come back from the dead. Obviously not. And this little boat, the Pax, looked so much like that other boat they’d had in Alaska. It brought back bad memories. …

  As soon as they left the dock, Hazel’s stomach started to churn. By the time they passed the piers along the San Francisco Embarcadero, she felt so woozy she thought she was hallucinating. They sped by a pack of sea lions lounging on the docks, and she swore she saw an old homeless guy sitting among them. From across the water, the old man pointed a bony finger at Percy and mouthed something like Don’t even think about it.

  “Did you see that?” Hazel asked.

  Percy’s face was red in the sunset. “Yeah. I’ve been here before. I…I don’t know. I think I was looking for my girlfriend. ”

  “Annabeth,” Frank said. “You mean, on your way to Camp

  Jupiter?”

  Percy frowned. “No. Before that. ” He scanned the city like he was still looking for Annabeth until they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and turned north.

  Hazel tried to settle her stomach by thinking of pleasant things—the euphoria she’d felt last night when they’d won the war games, riding Hannibal into the enemy keep, Frank’s sudden transformation into a leader. He’d looked like a different person when he’d scaled the walls, calling on the Fifth Cohort to attack. The way he’d swept the defenders off the battlements…Hazel had never seen him like that before. She’d been so proud to pin the centurion’s badge to his shirt.

  Then her thoughts turned to Nico. Before they had left, her brother had pulled her aside to wish her luck. Hazel hoped he’d stay at Camp Jupiter to help defend it, but he said he’d be leaving today—heading back to the Underworld.

  “Dad needs all the help he can get,” he said. “The Fields of Punishment look like a prison riot. The Furies can barely keep order. Besides…I’m going to try to track some of the escaping souls. Maybe I can find the Doors of Death from the other side. ”

  “Be careful,” Hazel said. “If Gaea is guarding those doors—”

  “Don’t worry. ” Nico smiled. “I know how to stay hidden. Just take care of yourself. The closer you get to Alaska…I’m not sure if it’ll make the blackouts better or worse. ”

  Take care of myself, Hazel thought bitterly. As if there was any way the quest would end well for her.

  “If we free Thanatos,” Hazel told Nico, “I may never see you again. Thanatos will send me back to the Underworld. …”

  Nico took her hand. His fingers were so pale, it was hard to believe Hazel and he shared the same godly father.

  “I wanted to give you a chance at Elysium,” he said. “That was the best I could do for you. But now, I wish there was another way. I don’t want to lose my sister. ”

  He didn’t say the word again, but Hazel knew that’s what he was thinking. For once, she didn’t feel jealous of Bianca di Angelo. She just wished that she had more time with Nico and her friends at camp. She didn’t want to die a second time.

  “Good luck, Hazel,” he said. Then he melted into the shadows—just like her father had seventy years before.

  The boat shuddered, jolting Hazel back to the present. They entered the Pacific currents and skirted the rocky coastline of Marin County.

  Frank held his ski bag across his lap. It passed over Hazel’s knees like the safety bar on an amusement ride, which made her think of the time Sammy had taken her to the carnival during Mardi Gras. …She quickly pushed that memory aside. She couldn’t risk a blackout.

  “You okay?” Frank asked. “You look queasy. ”

  “Seasickness,” she confessed. “I didn’t think it would be this bad. ”

  Frank pouted like it was somehow his fault. He started digging in his pack. “I’ve got some nectar. And some crackers. Um, my grandmother says ginger helps…I don’t have any of that, but—”

  “It’s okay. ” Hazel mustered a smile. “That’s sweet of you, though. ”

  Frank pulled out a saltine. It snapped in his big fingers. Cracker exploded everywhere.

  Hazel laughed. “Gods, Frank. …Sorry. I shouldn’t laugh. ”

  “Uh, no problem,” he said sheepishly. “Guess you don’t want that one. ”

  Percy wasn’t paying much attention. He kept his eyes fixed on the shoreline. As they passed Stinson Beach, he pointed inland, where a single mountain rose above the green hills.

  “That looks familiar,” he said.

  “Mount Tam,” Frank said. “Kids at camp are always talking about it. Big battle happened on the summit, at the old Titan base. ”

  Percy frowned. “Were either of you there?”

  “No,” Hazel said. “That was back in August, before I—um, before I got to camp. Jason told me about it. The legion destroyed the enemy’s palace and about a million monsters. Jason had to battle Krios—hand-to-hand combat with a Titan, if you can imagine. ”

  “I can imagine,” Percy muttered.

  Hazel wasn’t sure what he meant, but Percy did remind her of Jason, even though they looked nothing alike. They had the same aura of quiet power, plus a kind of sadness, like they’d seen their destiny and knew it was only a matter of time before they met a monster they couldn’t beat.

  Hazel understood the feeling. She
watched the sun set in the ocean, and she knew she had less than a week to live. Whether or not their quest succeeded, her journey would be over by the Feast of Fortuna.

  She thought about her first death, and the months leading up to it—her house in Seward, the six months she’d spent in Alaska, taking that little boat into Resurrection Bay at night, visiting that cursed island.

  She realized her mistake too late. Her vision went black, and she slipped back in time.

  Their rental house was a clapboard box suspended on pilings over the bay. When the train from Anchorage rolled by, the furniture shook and the pictures rattled on the walls. At night, Hazel fell asleep to the sound of icy water lapping against the rocks under the floorboards. The wind made the building creak and groan.

  They had one room, with a hot plate and an icebox for a kitchen. One corner was curtained off for Hazel, where she kept her mattress and storage chest. She’d pinned her drawings and old photos of New Orleans on the walls, but that only made her homesickness worse.

  Her mother was rarely home. She didn’t go by Queen Marie anymore. She was just Marie, the hired help. She’d cook and clean all day at the diner on Third Avenue for fishermen, railroad workers, and the occasional crew of navy men. She’d come home smelling like Pine-Sol and fried fish.

  At night, Marie Levesque would transform. The Voice took over, giving Hazel orders, putting her to work on their horrible project.

  Winter was the worst. The Voice stayed longer because of the constant darkness. The cold was so intense, Hazel thought she would never be warm again.

  When summer came, Hazel couldn’t get enough sun. Every day of summer vacation, she stayed away from home as long as she could, but she couldn’t walk around town. It was a small community. The other kids spread rumors about her—the witch’s child who lived in the old shack by the docks. If she came too close, the kids jeered at her or threw bottles and rocks. The adults weren’t much better.

  Hazel could’ve made their lives miserable. She could’ve given them diamonds, pearls, or gold. Up here in Alaska, gold was easy. There was so much in the hills, Hazel could’ve buried the town without half trying. But she didn’t really hate the locals for pushing her away. She couldn’t blame them.

  She spent the day walking the hills. She attracted ravens. They’d caw at her from the trees and wait for the shiny things that always appeared in her footsteps. The curse never seemed to bother them. She saw brown bears, too, but they kept their distance. When Hazel got thirsty, she’d find a snowmelt waterfall and drink cold, clean water until her throat hurt. She’d climb as high as she could and let the sunshine warm her face.

  It wasn’t a bad way to pass the time, but she knew eventually she’d have to go home.

  Sometimes she thought about her father—that strange pale man in the silver-and-black suit. Hazel wished he’d come back and protect her from her mother, maybe use his powers to get rid of that awful Voice. If he was a god, he should be able to do that.

 
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