The son of neptune, p.35
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       The Son of Neptune, p.35

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
 
Page 35

 

  “Got it,” Frank muttered.

  Hazel gripped her sword like she was tempted to pommel-whip the old man. “So you talked too much, and the gods cursed you. Why did they stop?”

  “Oh, they didn’t!” The old man arched his bushy eyebrows like, Can you believe it? “I had to make a deal with the Argonauts. They wanted information too, you see. I told them to kill the harpies, and I’d cooperate. Well, they drove those nasty creatures away, but Iris wouldn’t let them kill the harpies. An outrage! So this time, when my patron brought me back to life—”

  “Your patron?” Frank asked.

  Phineas gave him a wicked grin. “Why, Gaea, of course.

  Who do you think opened the Doors of Death? Your girl friend here understands. Isn’t Gaea your patron, too?”

  Hazel drew her sword. “I’m not his—I don’t—Gaea is not my patron!”

  Phineas looked amused. If he had heard the sword being drawn, he didn’t seem concerned. “Fine, if you want to be noble and stick with the losing side, that’s your business. But Gaea is waking. She’s already rewritten the rules of life and death! I’m alive again, and in exchange for my help—a prophecy here, a prophecy there—I get my fondest wish. The tables have been turned, so to speak. Now I can eat all I want, all day long, and the harpies have to watch and starve. ”

  He revved his weed whacker, and the harpies wailed in the trees.

  “They’re cursed!” the old man said. “They can eat only food from my table, and they can’t leave Portland. Since the Doors of Death are open, they can’t even die. It’s beautiful!”

  “Beautiful?” Frank protested. “They’re living creatures. Why are you so mean to them?”

  “They’re monsters!” Phineas said. “And mean? Those feather-brained demons tormented me for years!”

  “But it was their duty,” Percy said, trying to control himself. “Jupiter ordered them to. ”

  “Oh, I’m mad at Jupiter, too,” Phineas agreed. “In time, Gaea will see that the gods are properly punished. Horrible job they’ve done, ruling the world. But for now, I’m enjoying Portland. The mortals take no notice of me. They think I’m just a crazy old man shooing away pigeons!”

  Hazel advanced on the seer. “You’re awful!” she told Phineas. “You belong in the Fields of Punishment!”

  Phineas sneered. “One dead person to another, girlie? I wouldn’t be talking. You started this whole thing! If it weren’t for you, Alcyoneus wouldn’t be alive!”

  Hazel stumbled back.

  “Hazel?” Frank’s eyes got as wide as quarters. “What’s he talking about?”

  “Ha!” Phineas said. “You’ll find out soon enough, Frank Zhang. Then we’ll see if you’re still sweet on your girlfriend.

  But that’s not what you’re here about, is it? You want to find Thanatos. He’s being kept at Alcyoneus’s lair. I can tell you where that is. Of course I can. But you’ll have to do me a favor. ”

  “Forget it,” Hazel snapped. “You’re working for the enemy.

  We should send you back to the Underworld ourselves. ”

  “You could try. ” Phineas smiled. “But I doubt I’d stay dead very long. You see, Gaea has shown me the easy way back. And with Thanatos in chains, there’s no one to keep me down! Besides, if you kill me, you won’t get my secrets. ”

  Percy was tempted to let Hazel use her sword. In fact he wanted to strangle the old man himself.

  Camp Jupiter, he told himself. Saving the camp is more important. He remembered Alcyoneus taunting him in his dreams. If they wasted time searching through Alaska looking for the giant’s lair, Gaea’s armies would destroy the Romans…and Percy’s other friends, wherever they were.

  He gritted his teeth. “What’s the favor?”

  Phineas licked his lips greedily. “There’s one harpy who’s quicker than the rest. ”

  “The red one,” Percy guessed.

  “I’m blind! I don’t know colors!” the old man groused. “At any rate, she’s the only one I have trouble with. She’s wily, that one. Always does her own thing, never roosts with the others. She gave me these. ”

  He pointed at the scars on his forehead.

  “Capture that harpy,” he said. “Bring her to me. I want her tied up where I can keep an eye on her…ah, so to speak. Harpies hate being tied up. It causes them extreme pain. Yes, I’ll enjoy that. Maybe I’ll even feed her so that she lasts longer. ”

  Percy looked at his friends. They came to a silent agreement: they would never help this creepy old man. On the other hand, they had to get his information. They needed a Plan B.

  “Oh, go talk among yourselves,” Phineas said breezily. “I don’t care. Just remember that without my help, your quest will fail. And everyone you love in the world will die. Now, off with you! Bring me a harpy!”

  XXVII Percy

  “WE’LL NEED SOME OF YOUR FOOD. ” Percy shouldered his way around the old man and snatched stuff off the picnic table—a covered bowl of Thai noodles in mac-and-cheese sauce, and a tubular pastry that looked like a combination burrito and cinnamon roll.

  Before he could lose control and smash the burrito in Phineas’s face, Percy said, “Come on, guys. ” He led his friends out of the parking lot.

  They stopped across the street. Percy took a deep breath, trying to calm down. The rain had slowed to a halfhearted drizzle. The cold mist felt good on his face.

  “That man…” Hazel smacked the side of a bus-stop bench.

  “He needs to die. Again. ”

  It was hard to tell in the rain, but she seemed to be blinking back tears. Her long curly hair was plastered down the sides of her face. In the gray light, her gold eyes looked more like tin.

  Percy remembered how confident she’d acted when they first met—taking control of the situation with the gorgons and ushering him to safety. She’d comforted him at the shrine of Neptune and made him feel welcome at camp.

  Now he wanted to return the favor, but he wasn’t sure how. She looked lost, bedraggled, and thoroughly depressed.

  Percy wasn’t surprised that she had come back from the Underworld. He’d suspected that for a while—the way she avoided talking about her past, the way Nico di Angelo had been so secretive and cautious.

  But that didn’t change how Percy saw her. She seemed. . . well, alive, like a regular kid with a good heart, who deserved to grow up and have a future. She wasn’t a ghoul like Phineas.

  “We’ll get him,” Percy promised. “He’s nothing like you, Hazel. I don’t care what he says. ”

  She shook her head. “You don’t know the whole story. I should have been sent to Punishment. I—I’m just as bad—”

  “No, you’re not!” Frank balled his fists. He looked around like he was searching for anybody who might disagree with him—enemies he could hit for Hazel’s sake. “She’s a good person!” he yelled across the street. A few harpies squawked in the trees, but no one else paid them any attention.

  Hazel stared at Frank. She reached out tentatively, as if she wanted to take his hand but was afraid he might evaporate.

  “Frank. . . ” she stammered. “I—I don’t. . . ”

  Unfortunately, Frank seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts.

  He slung his spear off his back and gripped it uneasily.

  “I could intimidate that old man,” he offered, “maybe scare him—”

  “Frank, it’s okay,” Percy said. “Let’s keep that as a backup plan, but I don’t think Phineas can be scared into cooperating. Besides, you’ve only got two more uses out of the spear, right?”

  Frank scowled at the dragon’s-tooth point, which had grown back completely overnight. “Yeah. I guess. …”

  Percy wasn’t sure what the old seer had meant about Frank’s family history—his great-grandfather destroying camp, his Argonaut ancestor, and the bit about a burned stick controlling Frank’s life. But it had clearly shaken Frank up. Percy decided not to ask for explanation
s. He didn’t want the big guy reduced to tears, especially in front of Hazel.

  “I’ve got an idea. ” Percy pointed up the street. “The red-feathered harpy went that way. Let’s see if we can get her to talk to us. ”

  Hazel looked at the food in his hands. “You’re going to use that as bait?”

  “More like a peace offering,” Percy said. “Come on. Just try to keep the other harpies from stealing this stuff, okay?”

  Percy uncovered the Thai noodles and unwrapped the cinnamon burrito. Fragrant steam wafted into the air. They walked down the street, Hazel and Frank with their weapons out. The harpies fluttered after them, perching on trees, mailboxes, and flagpoles, following the smell of food.

  Percy wondered what the mortals saw through the Mist. Maybe they thought the harpies were pigeons and the weapons were lacrosse sticks or something. Maybe they just thought the Thai mac and cheese was so good it needed an armed escort.

  Percy kept a tight grip on the food. He’d seen how quickly the harpies could snatch things. He didn’t want to lose his peace offering before he found the red-feathered harpy.

  Finally he spotted her, circling above a stretch of parkland that ran for several blocks between rows of old stone buildings. Paths stretched through the park under huge maple and elm trees, past sculptures and playgrounds and shady benches. The place reminded Percy of…some other park. Maybe in his hometown? He couldn’t remember, but it made him feel homesick.

  They crossed the street and found a bench to sit on, next to a big bronze sculpture of an elephant.

  “Looks like Hannibal,” Hazel said.

  “Except it’s Chinese,” Frank said. “My grandmother has one of those. ” He flinched. “I mean, hers isn’t twelve feet tall. But she imports stuff…from China. We’re Chinese. ” He looked at Hazel and Percy, who were trying hard not to laugh. “Could I just die from embarrassment now?” he asked.

  “Don’t worry about it, man,” Percy said. “Let’s see if we can make friends with the harpy. ”

  He raised the Thai noodles and fanned the smell upward—spicy peppers and cheesy goodness. The red harpy circled lower.

  “We won’t hurt you,” Percy called up in a normal voice. “We just want to talk. Thai noodles for a chance to talk, okay?”

  The harpy streaked down in a flash of red and landed on the elephant statue.

  She was painfully thin. Her feathery legs were like sticks. Her face would have been pretty except for her sunken cheeks. She moved in jerky birdlike twitches, her coffee-brown eyes darting restlessly, her fingers clawing at her plumage, her earlobes, her shaggy red hair.

  “Cheese,” she muttered, looking sideways. “Ella doesn’t like cheese. ”

  Percy hesitated. “Your name is Ella?”

  “Ella. Aella. ‘Harpy. ’ In English. In Latin. Ella doesn’t like cheese. ” She said all that without taking a breath or making eye contact. Her hands snatched at her hair, her burlap dress, the raindrops, whatever moved.

 
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