The house of hades, p.26
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       The House of Hades, p.26
 

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 26

 

  But Hazel couldn’t forget that Jason had been Hera’s first move in the war against the giants. The Queen of Olympus had dropped Jason into Camp Half-Blood, which had started this entire chain of events to stop Gaea. Why Jason first? Something told Hazel he was the linchpin. Jason would be the final play, too.

  To storm or fire the world must fall. That’s what the prophecy said. As much as Hazel feared fire, she feared storms more. Jason Grace could cause some pretty huge storms.

  She glanced up and saw the rim of the cliff only a few yards above her.

  She reached the top, breathless and sweaty. A long sloping valley marched inland, dotted with scraggly olive trees and limestone boulders. There were no signs of civilization.

  Hazel’s legs trembled from the climb. Gale seemed anxious to explore. The weasel barked and farted and scampered into the nearest bushes. Far below, the Argo II looked like a toy boat in the channel. Hazel didn’t understand how anyone could shoot an arrow accurately from this high up, accounting for the wind and the glare of the sun off the water. At the mouth of the inlet, the massive shape of the turtle’s shell glinted like a burnished coin.

  Jason joined her at the top, looking no worse for the climb.

  He started to say, “Where—”

  “Here!” said a voice.

  Hazel flinched. Only ten feet away, a man had appeared, a bow and quiver over his shoulder and two old-fashioned flintlock dueling pistols in his hands. He wore high leather boots, leather breeches, and a pirate-style shirt. His curly black hair looked like a little kid’s do and his sparkly green eyes were friendly enough, but a red bandana covered the lower half of his face.

  “Welcome!” the bandit cried, pointing his guns at them. “Your money or your life!”

  Hazel was certain that he hadn’t been there a second ago. He’d simply materialized, as if he’d stepped out from behind an invisible curtain.

  “Who are you?” Hazel asked.

  The bandit laughed. “Sciron, of course!”

  “Chiron?” Jason asked. “Like the centaur?”

  The bandit rolled his eyes. “Sky-ron, my friend. Son of Poseidon! Thief extraordinaire! All-around awesome guy! But that’s not important. I’m not seeing any valuables!” he cried, as if this were excellent news. “I guess that means you want to die?”

  “Wait,” Hazel said. “We’ve got valuables. But if we give them up, how can we be sure you’ll let us go?”

  “Oh, they always ask that,” Sciron said. “I promise you, on the River Styx, that as soon as you surrender what I want, I will not shoot you. I will send you right back down that cliff. ”

  Hazel gave Jason a wary look. River Styx or no, the way Sciron phrased his promise didn’t reassure her.

  “What if we fought you?” Jason asked. “You can’t attack us and hold our ship hostage at the same—”

  BANG! BANG!

  It happened so fast, Hazel’s brain needed a moment to catch up.

  Smoke curled from the side of Jason’s head. Just above his left ear, a groove cut through his hair like a racing stripe. One of Sciron’s flintlocks was still pointed at his face. The other flintlock was pointed down, over the side of the cliff, as if Sciron’s second shot had been fired at the Argo II.

  Hazel choked from delayed shock. “What did you do?”

  “Oh, don’t worry!” Sciron laughed. “If you could see that far—which you can’t—you’d see a hole in the deck between the shoes of the big young man, the one with the bow. ”

  “Frank!”

  Sciron shrugged. “If you say so. That was just a demonstration. I’m afraid it could have been much more serious. ”

  He spun his flintlocks. The hammers reset, and Hazel had a feeling the guns had just magically reloaded.

  Sciron waggled his eyebrows at Jason. “So! To answer your question—yes, I can attack you and hold your ship hostage at the same time. Celestial bronze ammunition. Quite deadly to demigods. You two would die first—bang, bang. Then I could take my time picking off your friends on that ship. Target practice is so much more fun with live targets running around screaming!”

  Jason touched the new furrow that the bullet had plowed through his hair. For once, he didn’t look very confident.

  Hazel’s ankles wobbled. Frank was the best shot she knew with a bow, but this bandit Sciron was inhumanly good.

  “You’re a son of Poseidon?” she managed. “I would’ve thought Apollo, the way you shoot. ”

  The smile lines deepened around his eyes. “Why, thank you! It’s just from practice, though. The giant turtle—that’s due to my parentage. You can’t go around taming giant turtles without being a son of Poseidon! I could overwhelm your ship with a tidal wave, of course, but it’s terribly difficult work. Not nearly as fun as ambushing and shooting people. ”

  Hazel tried to collect her thoughts, stall for time, but it was difficult while staring down the smoking barrels of those flintlocks. “Uh…what’s the bandana for?”

  “So no one recognizes me!” Sciron said.

  “But you introduced yourself,” Jason said. “You’re Sciron. ”

  The bandit’s eyes widened. “How did you— Oh. Yes, I suppose I did. ” He lowered one flintlock and scratched the side of his head with the other. “Terribly sloppy of me. Sorry. I’m afraid I’m a little rusty. Back from the dead, and all that. Let me try again. ”

  He leveled his pistols. “Stand and deliver! I am an anonymous bandit, and you do not need to know my name!”

  An anonymous bandit. Something clicked in Hazel’s memory. “Theseus. He killed you once. ”

  Sciron’s shoulders slumped. “Now, why did you have to mention him? We were getting along so well!”

  Jason frowned. “Hazel, you know this guy’s story?”

  She nodded, though the details were murky. “Theseus met him on the road to Athens. Sciron would kill his victims by, um…”

  Something about the turtle. Hazel couldn’t remember.

  “Theseus was such a cheater!” Sciron complained. “I don’t want to talk about him. I’m back from the dead now. Gaea promised me I could stay on the coastline and rob all the demigods I wanted, and that’s what I’m going to do! Now…where were we?”

  “You were about to let us go,” Hazel ventured.

  “Hmm…” Sciron said. “No, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t it. Ah, right! Money or your life. Where are your valuables? No valuables? Then I’ll have to—”

  “Wait,” Hazel said. “I have our valuables. At least, I can get them. ”

  Sciron pointed a flintlock at Jason’s head. “Well, then, my dear, hop to it, or my next shot will cut off more than your friend’s hair!”

  Hazel hardly needed to concentrate. She was so anxious, the ground rumbled beneath her and immediately yielded a bumper crop—precious metals popping to the surface as though the dirt was anxious to expel them.

  She found herself surrounded by a knee-high mound of treasure—Roman denarii, silver drachmas, ancient gold jewelry, glittering diamonds and topaz and rubies—enough to fill several lawn bags.

  Sciron laughed with delight. “How in the world did you do that?”

  Hazel didn’t answer. She thought about all the coins that had appeared at the crossroads with Hecate. Here were even more—centuries’ worth of hidden wealth from every empire that had ever claimed this land—Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and so many others. Those empires were gone, leaving only a barren coastline for Sciron the bandit.

  That thought made her feel small and powerless.

  “Just take the treasure,” she said. “Let us go. ”

  Sciron chuckled. “Oh, but I did say all your valuables. I understand you’re holding something very special on that ship…a certain ivory-and-gold statue about, say, forty feet tall?”

  The sweat started to dry on Hazel’s neck, sending a shiver down her back.

  Jason stepped forward. Despite the gun pointed at his face, his eyes were
as hard as sapphires. “The statue isn’t negotiable. ”

  “You’re right, it’s not!” Sciron agreed. “I must have it!”

  “Gaea told you about it,” Hazel guessed. “She ordered you to take it. ”

  Sciron shrugged. “Maybe. But she told me I could keep it for myself. Hard to pass up that offer! I don’t intend to die again, my friends. I intend to live a long life as a very wealthy man!”

  “The statue won’t do you any good,” Hazel said. “Not if Gaea destroys the world. ”

  The muzzles of Sciron’s pistols wavered. “Pardon?”

  “Gaea is using you,” Hazel said. “If you take that statue, we won’t be able to defeat her. She’s planning on wiping all mortals and demigods off the face of the earth, letting her giants and monsters take over. So where will you spend your gold, Sciron? Assuming Gaea even lets you live. ”

  Hazel let that sink in. She figured Sciron would have no trouble believing in double-crosses, being a bandit and all.

  He was silent for a count of ten.

  Finally his smile lines returned.

  “All right!” he said. “I’m not unreasonable. Keep the statue. ”

  Jason blinked. “We can go?”

  “Just one more thing,” Sciron said. “I always demand a show of respect. Before I let my victims leave, I insist that they wash my feet. ”

  Hazel wasn’t sure she’d heard him right. Then Sciron kicked off his leather boots, one after the other. His bare feet were the most disgusting things Hazel had ever seen…and she had seen some very disgusting things.

  They were puffy, wrinkled, and white as dough, as if they’d been soaking in formaldehyde for a few centuries. Tufts of brown hair sprouted from each misshapen toe. His jagged toenails were green and yellow, like a tortoise’s shell.

  Then the smell hit her. Hazel didn’t know if her father’s Underworld palace had a cafeteria for zombies, but if it did, that cafeteria would smell like Sciron’s feet.

  “So!” Sciron wriggled his disgusting toes. “Who wants the left, and who wants the right?”

  Jason’s face turned almost as white as those feet. “You’ve…got to be kidding. ”

  “Not at all!” Sciron said. “Wash my feet, and we’re done. I’ll send you back down the cliff. I promise on the River Styx. ”

  He made that promise so easily, alarm bells rang in Hazel’s mind. Feet. Send you back down the cliff. Tortoise shell.

  The story came back to her, all the missing pieces fitting into place. She remembered how Sciron killed his victims.

  “Could we have a moment?” Hazel asked the bandit.

  Sciron’s eyes narrowed. “What for?”

  “Well, it’s a big decision,” she said. “Left foot, right foot. We need to discuss. ”

  She could tell he was smiling under the mask.

  “Of course,” he said. “I’m so generous, you can have two minutes. ”

 
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