The son of neptune, p.27
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       The Son of Neptune, p.27

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 27


  Hazel felt as if she were expanding to the breaking point, just like that spire in the pit. Her misery would soon become too great to hold inside, and her skin would shatter. “That’s why I can find things under the earth?”

  “And why they bring only sorrow. ” Her mother gestured listlessly around the cavern. “That’s how she found me, how she was able to control me. I was angry with your father. I blamed him for my problems. I blamed you. I was so bitter, I listened to Gaea’s voice. I was a fool. ”

  “There’s got to be something we can do,” Hazel said. “Tell me how to stop her. ”

  The ground trembled. Gaea’s disembodied voice echoed through the cave.

  My eldest rises, she said, the most precious thing in the earth —and you have brought him from the depths, Hazel Levesque. You have made him anew. His awakening cannot be stopped. Only one thing remains.

  Hazel clenched her fists. She was terrified, but now that her mother was free, she felt like she could confront her enemy at last. This creature, this evil goddess, had ruined their lives. Hazel wasn’t going to let her win.

  “I won’t help you anymore!” she yelled.

  But I am done with your help, girl. I brought you here for one reason only. Your mother required…incentive.

  Hazel’s throat constricted. “Mother?”

  “I’m sorry, Hazel. If you can forgive me, please—know that it was only because I loved you. She promised to let you live if—”

  “If you sacrifice yourself,” Hazel said, realizing the truth. “She needs you to give your life willingly to raise that—that thing. ”

  Alcyoneus, Gaea said. Eldest of the giants. He must rise first, and this will be his new homeland—far from the gods. He will walk these icy mountains and forests. He will raise an army of monsters. While the gods are divided, fighting each other in this mortal World War, he will send forth his armies to destroy Olympus.

  The earth goddess’s dreams were so powerful, they cast shadows across the cave walls—ghastly shifting images of Nazi armies raging across Europe, Japanese planes destroying American cities. Hazel finally understood. The gods of Olympus would take sides in the battle as they always did in human wars. While the gods fought each other to a bloody standstill, an army of monsters would rise in the north. Alcyoneus would revive his brother giants and send them forth to conquer the world. The weakened gods would fall. The mortal conflict would rage for decades until all civilization was swept away, and the earth goddess awakened fully. Gaea would rule forever.

  All this, the goddess purred, because your mother was greedy and cursed you with the gift of finding riches. In my sleeping state, I would have needed decades more, perhaps even centuries, before I found the power to resurrect Alcyoneus myself. But now he will wake, and soon, so shall I!

  With terrible certainty, Hazel knew what would happen next. The only thing Gaea needed was a willing sacrifice—a soul to be consumed for Alcyoneus to awaken. Her mother would step into the fissure and touch that horrible spire—and she would be absorbed.

  “Hazel, go. ” Her mother rose unsteadily. “She’ll let you live, but you must hurry. ”

  Hazel believed it. That was the most horrible thing. Gaea would honor the bargain and let Hazel live. Hazel would survive to see the end of the world, knowing that she’d caused it.

  “No. ” Hazel made her decision. “I won’t live. Not for that. ”

  She reached deep into her soul. She called on her father, the Lord of the Underworld, and summoned all the riches that lay in his vast realm. The cavern shook.

  Around the spire of Alcyoneus, oil bubbled, then churned and erupted like a boiling cauldron.

  Don’t be foolish, Gaea said, but Hazel detected concern in her tone, maybe even fear. You will destroy yourself for nothing! Your mother will still die!

  Hazel almost wavered. She remembered her father’s promise: someday her curse would be washed away; a descendant of Neptune would bring her peace. He’d even said she might find a horse of her own. Maybe that strange stallion in the hills was meant for her. But none of that would happen if she died now. She’d never see Sammy again, or return to New Orleans. Her life would be thirteen short, bitter years with an unhappy ending.

  She met her mother’s eyes. For once, her mother didn’t look sad or angry. Her eyes shone with pride.

  “You were my gift, Hazel,” she said. “My most precious gift. I was foolish to think I needed anything else. ”

  She kissed Hazel’s forehead and held her close. Her warmth gave Hazel the courage to continue. They would die, but not as sacrifices to Gaea. Instinctively Hazel knew that their final act would reject Gaea’s power. Their souls would go to the Underworld, and Alcyoneus would not rise—at least not yet.

  Hazel summoned the last of her willpower. The air turned searing hot. The spire began to sink. Jewels and chunks of gold shot from the fissure with such force, they cracked the cavern walls and sent shrapnel flying, stinging Hazel’s skin through her jacket.

  Stop this! Gaea demanded. You cannot prevent his rise. At best, you will delay him—a few decades. Half a century. Would you trade your lives for that?

  Hazel gave her an answer.

  The last night, the raven had said.

  The fissure exploded. The roof crumbled. Hazel sank into her mother’s arms, into the darkness, as oil filled her lungs and the island collapsed into the bay.

  XVIII Hazel

  “HAZEL!” FRANK SHOOK HER ARMS, sounding panicked. “Come on, please! Wake up!”

  She opened her eyes. The night sky blazed with stars. The rocking of the boat was gone. She was lying on solid ground, her bundled sword and pack beside her.

  She sat up groggily, her head spinning. They were on a cliff overlooking a beach. About a hundred feet away, the ocean glinted in the moonlight. The surf washed gently against the stern of their beached boat. To her right, hugging the edge of the cliff, was a building like a small church with a search light in the steeple. A lighthouse, Hazel guessed. Behind them, fields of tall grass rustled in the wind.

  “Where are we?” she asked.

  Frank exhaled. “Thank the gods you’re awake! We’re in Mendocino, about a hundred and fifty miles north of the Golden Gate. ”

  “A hundred and fifty miles?” Hazel groaned. “I’ve been out that long?”

  Percy knelt beside her, the sea wind sweeping his hair. He put his hand on her forehead as if checking for a fever. “We couldn’t wake you. Finally we decided to bring you ashore. We thought maybe the seasickness—”

  “It wasn’t seasickness. ” She took a deep breath. She couldn’t hide the truth from them anymore. She remembered what Nico had said: If a flashback like that happens when you’re in combat . . .

  “I—I haven’t been honest with you,” she said. “What happened was a blackout. I have them once in a while. ”

  “A blackout?” Frank took Hazel’s hand, which startled her…though pleasantly so. “Is it medical? Why haven’t I noticed before?”

  “I try to hide it,” she admitted. “I’ve been lucky so far, but it’s getting worse. It’s not medical…not really. Nico says it’s a side effect from my past, from where he found me. ”

  Percy’s intense green eyes were hard to read. She couldn’t tell whether he was concerned or wary.

  “Where exactly did Nico find you?” he asked.

  Hazel’s tongue felt like cotton. She was afraid if she started talking, she’d slip back into the past, but they deserved to know. If she failed them on this quest, zonked out when they needed her most…she couldn’t bear that idea.

  “I’ll explain,” she promised. She clawed through her pack. Stupidly, she’d forgotten to bring a water bottle. “Is…is there anything to drink?”

  “Yeah. ” Percy muttered a curse in Greek. “That was dumb.

  I left my supplies down at the boat. ”

  Hazel felt bad asking them to take care of her, but she’d woken up parch
ed and exhausted, as if she’d lived the last few hours in both the past and the present. She shouldered her pack and sword. “Never mind. I can walk. …”

  “Don’t even think about it,” Frank said. “Not until you’ve had some food and water. I’ll get the supplies. ”

  “No, I’ll go. ” Percy glanced at Frank’s hand on Hazel’s. Then he scanned the horizon as if he sensed trouble, but there was nothing to see—just the lighthouse and the field of grass stretching inland. “You two stay here. I’ll be right back. ”

  “You sure?” Hazel said feebly. “I don’t want you to—”

  “It’s fine,” said Percy. “Frank, just keep your eyes open. Something about this place…I don’t know. ”

  “I’ll keep her safe,” Frank promised.

  Percy dashed off.

  Once they were alone, Frank seemed to realize he was still holding Hazel’s hand. He cleared his throat and let go.

  “I, um…I think I understand your blackouts,” he said. “And where you come from. ”

  Her heartbeat stumbled. “You do?”

  “You seem so different from other girls I’ve met. ” He blinked, then rushed on. “Not like…bad different. Just the way you talk. The things that surprise you—like songs, or

  TV shows, or slang people use. You talk about your life like it happened a long time ago. You were born in a different time, weren’t you? You came from the Underworld. ”

  Hazel wanted to cry—not because she was sad, but because it was such a relief to hear someone say the truth. Frank didn’t act revolted or scared. He didn’t look at her as if she were a ghost or some awful undead zombie.

  “Frank, I—”

  “We’ll figure it out,” he promised. “You’re alive now. We’re going to keep you that way. ”

  The grass rustled behind them. Hazel’s eyes stung in the cold wind.

  “I don’t deserve a friend like you,” she said. “You don’t know what I am…what I’ve done. ”

  “Stop that. ” Frank scowled. “You’re great! Besides, you’re not the only one with secrets. ”

  Hazel stared at him. “I’m not?”

  Frank started to say something. Then he tensed.

  “What?” Hazel asked.

  “The wind’s stopped. ”

  She looked around and noticed he was right. The air had become perfectly still.

  “So?” she asked.

  Frank swallowed. “So why is the grass still moving?”

  Out of the corner of her eye, Hazel saw dark shapes ripple through the field.

  “Hazel!” Frank tried to grab her arms, but it was too late.

  Something knocked him backward. Then a force like agrassy hurricane wrapped around Hazel and dragged her intothe fields.

  XIX Hazel

  HAZEL WAS AN EXPERT ON WEIRD. She’d seen her mother possessed by an earth goddess. She’d created a giant out of gold. She’d destroyed an island, died, and come back from the Underworld.

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