The son of neptune, p.31
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       The Son of Neptune, p.31

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 31


  “But…” Hazel looked mystified. “Aren’t you a Greek goddess?”

  Iris crossed her arms. “Don’t try to put me in a box, demigod! I’m not defined by my past. ”

  “Um, okay,” Hazel said. “Could you at least help our friend here? I think he’s sick. ”

  Percy reached across the counter. For a second Frank was afraid he wanted the cupcakes. “Iris-message,” he said. “Can you send one?”

  Frank wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “Iris-message?”

  “It’s…” Percy faltered. “Isn’t that something you do?”

  Iris studied Percy more closely. “Interesting. You’re from Camp Jupiter, and yet…Oh, I see. Juno is up to her tricks. ”

  “What?” Hazel asked.

  Iris glanced at her assistant, Fleecy. They seemed to have a silent conversation. Then the goddess pulled a vial from behind the counter and sprayed some honeysuckle-smelling oil around Percy’s face. “There, that should balance your chakra. As for Iris-messages—that’s an ancient way of communication. The Greeks used it. The Romans never took to it—always relying on their road systems and giant eagles and whatnot. But yes, I imagine…Fleecy, could you give it a try?”

  “Sure, boss!”

  Iris winked at Frank. “Don’t tell the other gods, but Fleecy handles most of my messages these days. She’s wonderful at it, really, and I don’t have time to answer all those requests personally. It messes up my wa. ”

  “Your wa?” Frank asked.

  “Mmm. Fleecy, why don’t you take Percy and Hazel into the back? You can get them something to eat while you arrange their messages. And for Percy…yes, memory sickness. I imagine that old Polybotes…well, meeting him in a state of amnesia can’t be good for a child of P—that is to say, Neptune. Fleecy, give him a cup of green tea with organic honey and wheat germ and some of my medicinal powder number five. That should fix him up. ”

  Hazel frowned. “What about Frank?”

  Iris turned to him. She tilted her head quizzically, just the way his mother used to—as if Frank were the biggest question in the room.

  “Oh, don’t worry,” Iris said. “Frank and I have a lot to talk about. ”

  XXII Frank

  FRANK WOULD’VE PREFERRED TO go with his friends, even if it meant he had to endure green tea with wheat germ. But Iris roped her arm through his and led him to a café table at a bay window. Frank set his spear on the floor. He sat across from Iris. Outside in the dark, the snake monsters restlessly patrolled the hillside, spewing fire and poisoning the grass.

  “Frank, I know how you feel,” Iris said. “I imagine that half-burned stick in your pocket gets heavier every day. ”

  Frank couldn’t breathe. His hand went instinctively to his coat. “How do you—?”

  “I told you. I know things. I was Juno’s messenger for ages. I know why she gave you a reprieve. ”

  “A reprieve?” Frank brought out the piece of firewood and unwrapped it from its cloth. As unwieldy as Mars’s spear was, the piece of tinder was worse. Iris was right. It weighed him down.

  “Juno saved you for a reason,” the goddess said. “She wants you to serve her plan. If she hadn’t appeared that day when you were a baby and warned your mother about the firewood, you would’ve died. You were born with too many gifts. That sort of power tends to burn out a mortal life. ”

  “Too many gifts?” Frank felt his ears getting warm with anger. “I don’t have any gifts!”

  “That’s not true, Frank. ” Iris swiped her hand in front of her like she was cleaning a windshield. A miniature rainbow appeared. “Think about it. ”

  An image shimmered in the rainbow. Frank saw himself when he was four years old, running across Grandmother’s backyard. His mother leaned out the window of the attic, high above, waving and calling to get his attention. Frank wasn’t supposed to be in the backyard by himself. He didn’t know why his mother was up in the attic, but she told him to stay by the house, not to go too far. Frank did exactly the opposite. He squealed with delight and ran to the edge of the woods, where he came face to face with a grizzly bear.

  Until Frank saw that scene in the rainbow, the memory had been so hazy, he thought he’d dreamed it. Now he could appreciate just how surreal the experience had been. The bear regarded the little boy, and it was difficult to tell who was more startled. Then Frank’s mother appeared at his side. There was no way she should have been able to get down from the attic so fast. She put herself between the bear and Frank and told him to run to the house. This time, Frank obeyed. When he turned at the back porch, he saw his mother coming out of the woods. The bear was gone. Frank asked what had happened. His mother smiled. Mama Bear just needed directions, she said.

  The scene in the rainbow changed. Frank saw himself as a six-year-old, curling up in his mother’s lap even though he was much too big for that. His mother’s long black hair was pulled back. Her arms were around him. She wore her rimless glasses that Frank always liked to steal, and her fuzzy gray fleece pullover that smelled like cinnamon. She was telling him stories about heroes, pretending they were all related to Frank: one was Xu Fu, who sailed in search of the elixir of life. The rainbow image had no sound, but Frank remembered his mother’s words: He was your great-great-great-…She would poke Frank’s stomach every time she said great-, dozens of times, until he was giggling uncontrollably.

  Then there was Sung Guo, also called Seneca Gracchus, who fought twelve Roman dragons and sixteen Chinese dragons in the western deserts of China. He was the strongest dragon of all, you see, his mother said. That’s how he could beat them! Frank didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded exciting.

  Then she poked his belly with so many greats, Frank rolled onto the floor to escape the tickling. And your very oldest ancestor that we know of: he was the Prince of Pylos! Hercules fought him once. It was a hard fight!

  Did we win? Frank asked.

  His mother laughed, but there was sadness in her voice. No, our ancestor lost. But it wasn’t easy for Hercules. Imagine trying to fight a swarm of bees. That’s how it was. Even Hercules had trouble!

  The comment made no sense to Frank, then or now. His ancestor had been a beekeeper?

  Frank hadn’t thought about these stories in years, but now they came back to him as clearly as his mother’s face. It hurt to see her again. Frank wanted to go back to that time. He wanted to be a little kid and curl up on her lap.

  In the rainbow image, little Frank asked where their family was from. So many heroes! Were they from Pylos, or Rome, or China, or Canada?

  His mother smiled, tilting her head as if considering how to answer.

  Li-Jien, she said at last. Our family is from many places, but our home is Li-Jien. Always remember, Frank: you have a special gift. You can be anything.

  The rainbow dissolved, leaving just Iris and Frank.

  “I don’t understand. ” His voice was hoarse.

  “Your mother explained it,” Iris said. “You can be anything. ”

  It sounded like one of those stupid things parents say to boost your self-esteem—a worn-out slogan that could be printed on Iris’s T-shirts, right along with The Goddess Is Alive! and My Other Car Is a Magic Carpet! But the way Iris said it, it sounded like a challenge.

  Frank pressed his hand against his pants pocket, where he kept his mother’s sacrifice medal. The silver medallion was cold as ice.

  “I can’t be anything,” Frank insisted. “I’ve got zero skills. ”

  “What have you tried?” Iris asked. “You wanted to be an archer. You managed that pretty well. You’ve only scratched the surface. Your friends Hazel and Percy—they’re both stretched between worlds: Greek and Roman, the past and the present. But you are stretched more than either of them.

  Your family is ancient—the blood of Pylos on your mother’s side, and your father is Mars. No wonder Juno wants you to be one of her seven heroes. She wants you to fight the giants and Gaea.
But think about this: What do you want?”

  “I don’t have any choice,” Frank said. “I’m the son of the stupid war god. I have to go on this quest and—”

  “Have to,” Iris said. “Not want to. I used to think like that. Then I got tired of being everyone’s servant. Fetch goblets of wine for Jupiter. Deliver letters for Juno. Send messages back and forth across the rainbow for anyone with a golden drachma. ”

  “A golden what?”

  “Not important. But I learned to let go. I started R. O. F. L. , and now I’m free of that baggage. You can let go, too. Maybe you can’t escape fate. Someday that piece of wood will burn. I foresee that you’ll be holding it when it happens, and your life will end—”

  “Thanks,” Frank muttered.

  “—but that just makes your life more precious! You don’t have to be what your parents and your grandmother expect.

  You don’t have to follow the war god’s orders, or Juno’s. Do your own thing, Frank! Find a new path!”

  Frank thought about that. The idea was thrilling: reject the gods, his destiny, his dad. He didn’t want to be a war god’s son. His mother had died in a war. Frank had lost everything thanks to a war. Mars clearly didn’t know the first thing about him. Frank didn’t want to be a hero.

  “Why are you telling me this?” he asked. “You want me to abandon the quest, let Camp Jupiter be destroyed? My friends are counting on me. ”

  Iris spread her hands. “I can’t tell you what to do, Frank.

  But do what you want, not what they tell you to do. Where did conforming ever get me? I spent five millennia serving everyone else, and I never discovered my own identity. What’s my sacred animal? No one bothered to give me one. Where are my temples? They never made any. Well, fine! I’ve found peace here at the co-op. You could stay with us, if you want.

  Become a ROFLcopter. ”

  “A what, now?”

  “The point is you have options. If you continue this quest…what happens when you free Thanatos? Will it be good for your family? Your friends?”

  Frank remembered what his grandmother had said: she had an appointment with Death. Grandmother infuriated him sometimes; but still, she was his only living family, the only person alive who loved him. If Thanatos stayed chained up, Frank might not lose her. And Hazel—somehow she had come back from the Underworld. If Death took her again, Frank wouldn’t be able to stand it. Not to mention Frank’s own problem: according to Iris, he should have died when he was a baby. All that stood between him and Death was a half-burned stick. Would Thanatos take him away, too?

  Frank tried to imagine staying here with Iris, putting on a R. O. F. L. shirt, selling crystals and dream catchers to demigod travelers and lobbing gluten-free cupcake simulations at passing monsters. Meanwhile, an undying army would overrun Camp Jupiter.

  You can be anything, his mother had said.

  No, he thought. I can’t be that selfish.

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