The son of neptune, p.34
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       The Son of Neptune, p.34

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
 
Page 34

 

  In a valley between the mountains lay a massive field of ice. The edge plunged into the sea, hundreds of feet below, with sheets of frost constantly crumbling into the water. On top of the ice field stood a legion camp—ramparts, moats, towers, barracks, just like Camp Jupiter except three times as large. At the crossroads outside the principia, a figure in dark robes stood shackled to the ice. Percy’s vision swept past him, into the headquarters. There, in the gloom, sat a giant even bigger than Polybotes. His skin glinted gold. Displayed behind him were the tattered, frozen banners of a Roman legion, including a large, golden eagle with its wings spread.

  We await you, the giant’s voice boomed. While you fumble your way north, trying to find me, my armies will destroy your precious camps—first the Romans, then the others. You cannot win, little demigod.

  Percy lurched awake in cold gray daylight, rain falling on his face.

  “I thought I slept heavily,” Hazel said. “Welcome to Portland. ”

  Percy sat up and blinked. The scene around him was so different from his dream, he wasn’t sure which was real. The Pax floated on an iron-black river through the middle of a city. Heavy clouds hung low overhead. The cold rain was so light, it seemed suspended in the air. On Percy’s left were industrial warehouses and railroad tracks. To his right was a small downtown area—an almost cozy-looking cluster of towers between the banks of the river and a line of misty forested hills.

  Percy rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “How did we get here?”

  Frank gave him a look like, You won’t believe this. “The killer whale took us as far as the Columbia River. Then he passed the harness to a couple of twelve-foot sturgeons. ”

  Percy thought Frank had said surgeons. He had this weird image of giant doctors in scrubs and face masks, pulling their boat upstream. Then he realized Frank meant sturgeons, like the fish. He was glad he hadn’t said anything. Would have been embarrassing, his being son of the sea god and all.

  “Anyway,” Frank continued, “the sturgeons pulled us for a long time. Hazel and I took turns sleeping. Then we hit this river—”

  “The Willamette,” Hazel offered.

  “Right,” Frank said. “After that, the boat kind of took over and navigated us here all by itself. Sleep okay?”

  As the Pax glided south, Percy told them about his dreams. He tried to focus on the positive: a warship might be on the way to help Camp Jupiter. A friendly Cyclops and a giant dog were looking for him. He didn’t mention what Gaea had said: Your friends will die.

  When Percy described the Roman fort on the ice, Hazel looked troubled.

  “So Alcyoneus is on a glacier,” she said. “That doesn’t narrow it down much. Alaska has hundreds of those. ”

  Percy nodded. “Maybe this seer dude Phineas can tell us which one. ”

  The boat docked itself at a wharf. The three demigods stared up at the buildings of drizzly downtown Portland.

  Frank wiped the rain off his flat-top hair.

  “So now we find a blind man in the rain,” Frank said.

  “Yay. ”

  XXVI Percy

  IT WASN’T AS HARD AS THEY THOUGHT. The screaming and the weed whacker helped.

  They’d brought lightweight Polartec jackets with their supplies, so they bundled up against the cold rain and walked for a few blocks through the mostly deserted streets. This time Percy was smart and brought most of his supplies from the boat. He even stuffed the macrobiotic jerky in his coat pocket, in case he needed to threaten any more killer whales.

  They saw some bicycle traffic and a few homeless guy shuddled in doorways, but the majority of Portlanders seemed to be staying indoors.

  As they made their way down Glisan Street, Percy looked longingly at the folks in the cafés enjoying coffee and pastries. He was about to suggest that they stop for breakfast when he heard a voice down the street yelling: “HA! TAKE THAT, STUPID CHICKENS!” followed by the revving of a small engine and a lot of squawking.

  Percy glanced at his friends. “You think—?”

  “Probably,” Frank agreed.

  They ran toward the sounds.

  The next block over, they found a big open parking lot with tree-lined sidewalks and rows of food trucks facing the streets on all four sides. Percy had seen food trucks before, but never so many in once place. Some were simple white metal boxes on wheels, with awnings and serving counters. Others were painted blue or purple or polka-dotted, with big banners out front and colorful menu boards and tables like do-it-yourself sidewalk cafés. One advertised Korean/Brazilian fusion tacos, which sounded like some kind of top-secret radioactive cuisine. Another offered sushi on a stick. A third was selling deep-fried ice cream sandwiches. The smell was amazing—dozens of different kitchens cooking at once.

  Percy’s stomach rumbled. Most of the food carts were open for business, but there was hardly anyone around. They could get anything they wanted! Deep-fried ice cream sandwiches? Oh, man, that sounded way better than wheat germ.

  Unfortunately, there was more happening than just cooking. In the center of the lot, behind all the food trucks, an old man in a bathrobe was running around with a weed whacker, screaming at a flock of bird-ladies who were trying to steal food off a picnic table.

  “Harpies,” said Hazel. “Which means—”

  “That’s Phineas,” Frank guessed.

  They ran across the street and squeezed between the Korean/Brazilian truck and a Chinese egg roll burrito vendor.

  The backs of the food trucks weren’t nearly as appetizing as the fronts. They were cluttered with stacks of plastic buckets, overflowing garbage cans, and makeshift clotheslines hung with wet aprons and towels. The parking lot itself was nothing but a square of cracked asphalt, marbled with weeds. In the middle was a picnic table piled high with food from all the different trucks.

  The guy in the bathrobe was old and fat. He was mostly bald, with scars across his forehead and a rim of stringy white hair. His bathrobe was spattered with ketchup, and he kept stumbling around in fuzzy pink bunny slippers, swinging his gas-powered weed whacker at the half-dozen harpies who were hovering over his picnic table.

  He was clearly blind. His eyes were milky white, and usually he missed the harpies by a lot, but he was still doing a pretty good job fending them off.

  “Back, dirty chickens!” he bellowed.

  Percy wasn’t sure why, but he had a vague sense that harpies were supposed to be plump. These looked like they were starving. Their human faces had sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. Their bodies were covered in molting feathers, and their wings were tipped with tiny, shriveled hands. They wore ragged burlap sacks for dresses. As they dived for the food, they seemed more desperate than angry. Percy felt sorry for them.

  WHIRRRR! The old man swung his weed whacker. He grazed one of the harpies’ wings. The harpy yelped in pain and fluttered off, dropping yellow feathers as she flew.

  Another harpy circled higher than the rest. She looked younger and smaller than the others, with bright-red feathers.

  She watched carefully for an opening, and when the old man’s back was turned, she made a wild dive for the table. She grabbed a burrito in her clawed feet, but before she could escape, the blind man swung his weed whacker and smacked her in the back so hard, Percy winced. The harpy yelped, dropped the burrito, and flew off.

  “Hey, stop it!” Percy yelled.

  The harpies took that the wrong way. They glanced over at the three demigods and immediately fled. Most of them fluttered away and perched in the trees around the square, staring dejectedly at the picnic table. The red-feathered one with the hurt back flew unsteadily down Glisan Street and out of sight.

  “Ha!” The blind man yelled in triumph and killed the power on his weed whacker. He grinned vacantly in Percy’s direction. “Thank you, strangers! Your help is most appreciated. ”

  Percy bit back his anger. He hadn’t meant to help the old man, but he remembered that t
hey needed information from him.

  “Uh, whatever. ” He approached the old guy, keeping one eye on the weed whacker. “I’m Percy Jackson. This is—”

  “Demigods!” the old man said. “I can always smell demigods. ”

  Hazel frowned. “Do we smell that bad?”

  The old man laughed. “Of course not, my dear. But you’d be surprised how sharp my other senses became once I was blinded. I’m Phineas. And you—wait, don’t tell me—”

  He reached for Percy’s face and poked him in the eyes.

  “Ow!” Percy complained.

  “Son of Neptune!” Phineas exclaimed. “I thought I smelled the ocean on you, Percy Jackson. I’m also a son of Neptune, you know. ”

  “Hey…yeah. Okay. ” Percy rubbed his eyes. Just his luck he was related to this grubby old dude. He hoped all sons of Neptune didn’t share the same fate. First, you start carrying a man satchel. Next thing you know, you’re running around in a bathrobe and pink bunny slippers, chasing chickens with a weed whacker.

  Phineas turned to Hazel. “And here…Oh my, the smell of gold and deep earth. Hazel Levesque, daughter of Pluto. And next to you—the son of Mars. But there’s more to your story, Frank Zhang—”

  “Ancient blood,” Frank muttered. “Prince of Pylos. Blah, blah, blah. ”

  “Periclymenus, exactly! Oh, he was a nice fellow. I loved the Argonauts!”

  Frank’s mouth fell open. “W-wait. Perry who?”

  Phineas grinned. “Don’t worry. I know about your family. That story about your great-grandfather? He didn’t reallydestroy the camp. Now, what an interesting group. Are you hungry?”

  Frank looked like he’d been run over by a truck, but Phineas had already moved on to other matters. He waved his hand at the picnic table. In the nearby trees, the harpies shrieked miserably. As hungry as Percy was, he couldn’t stand to think about eating with those poor bird ladies watching him.

  “Look, I’m confused,” Percy said. “We need some information. We were told—”

  “—that the harpies were keeping my food away from me,” Phineas finished, “and if you helped me, I’d help you. ”

  “Something like that,” Percy admitted.

  Phineas laughed. “That’s old news. Do I look like I’m missing any meals?”

  He patted his belly, which was the size of an overinflated basketball.

  “Um . . . no,” Percy said.

  Phineas waved his weed whacker in an expansive gesture. All three of them ducked.

  “Things have changed, my friends!” he said. “When I first got the gift of prophecy, eons ago, it’s true Jupiter cursed me. He sent the harpies to steal my food. You see, I had a bit of a big mouth. I gave away too many secrets that the gods wanted kept. ” He turned to Hazel. “For instance, you’re supposed to be dead. And you—” He turned to Frank. “Your life depends on a burned stick. ”

  Percy frowned. “What are you talking about?”

  Hazel blinked like she’d been slapped. Frank looked like the truck had backed up and run over him again.

  “And you,” Phineas turned to Percy, “well now, you don’t even know who you are! I could tell you, of course, but…ha! What fun would that be? And Brigid O’Shaughnessy shot Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon. And Darth Vader is actually Luke’s father. And the winner of the next Super Bowl will be—”

 
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