The son of neptune, p.36
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       The Son of Neptune, p.36

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 36

 

  Quicker than Percy could blink, she lunged, snatched the cinnamon burrito, and appeared atop the elephant again.

  “Gods, she’s fast!” Hazel said.

  “And heavily caffeinated,” Frank guessed.

  Ella sniffed the burrito. She nibbled at the edge and shuddered from head to foot, cawing like she was dying. “Cinnamon is good,” she pronounced. “Good for harpies. Yum. ”

  She started to eat, but the bigger harpies swooped down. Before Percy could react, they began pummeling Ella with their wings, snatching at the burrito.

  “Nnnnnnooo. ” Ella tried to hide under her wings as her sisters ganged up on her, scratching with their claws. “N-no,” she stuttered. “N-n-no!”

  “Stop it!” Percy yelled. He and his friends ran to help, but it was too late. A big yellow harpy grabbed the burrito and the whole flock scattered, leaving Ella cowering and shivering on top of the elephant.

  Hazel touched the harpy’s foot. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

  Ella poked her head out of her wings. She was still trembling. With her shoulders hunched, Percy could see the bleeding gash on her back where Phineas had hit her with the weed whacker. She picked at her feathers, pulling out tufts of plumage. “S-small Ella,” she stuttered angrily. “W-weak Ella. No cinnamon for Ella. Only cheese. ”

  Frank glared across the street, where the other harpies were sitting in a maple tree, tearing the burrito to shreds. “We’ll get you something else,” he promised.

  Percy set down the Thai noodles. He realized that Ella was different, even for a harpy. But after watching her get picked on, he was sure of one thing: whatever else happened, he was going to help her.

  “Ella,” he said, “we want to be your friends. We can get you more food, but—”

  “Friends,” Ella said. “‘Ten seasons. 1994 to 2004. ’” She glanced sideways at Percy, then looked in the air and started reciting to the clouds. “‘A half-blood of the eldest gods, shall reach sixteen against all odds. ’ Sixteen. You’re sixteen. Page sixteen, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. ‘Ingredients: Bacon, Butter. ’”

  Percy’s ears were ringing. He felt dizzy, like he’d just plunged a hundred feet underwater and back up again. “Ella…what was that you said?”

  “‘Bacon. ’” She caught a raindrop out of the air. “‘Butter. ’”

  “No, before that. Those lines…I know those lines. ”

  Next to him, Hazel shivered. “It does sound familiar, like…I don’t know, like a prophecy. Maybe it’s something she heard Phineas say?”

  At the name Phineas, Ella squawked in terror and flew away.

  “Wait!” Hazel called. “I didn’t mean—Oh, gods, I’m stupid. ”

  “It’s all right. ” Frank pointed. “Look. ”

  Ella wasn’t moving as quickly now. She flapped her way to the top of a three-story red brick building and scuttled out of sight over the roof. A single red feather fluttered down to the street.

  “You think that’s her nest?” Frank squinted at the sign on the building. “Multnomah County Library?”

  Percy nodded. “Let’s see if it’s open. ”

  They ran across the street and into the lobby.

  A library wouldn’t have been Percy’s first choice for someplace to visit. With his dyslexia, he had enough trouble reading signs. A whole building full of books? That sounded about as much fun as Chinese water torture or getting his teeth extracted.

  As they jogged through the lobby, Percy figured Annabeth would like this place. It was spacious and brightly lit, with big vaulted windows. Books and architecture, that was definitely her. . . .

  He froze in his tracks.

  “Percy?” Frank asked. “What’s wrong?”

  Percy tried desperately to concentrate. Where had those thoughts come from? Architecture, books…Annabeth had taken him to the library once, back home in—in—The memory faded. Percy slammed his fist into the side of a bookshelf.

  “Percy?” Hazel asked gently.

  He was so angry, so frustrated with his missing memories that he wanted to punch another bookshelf, but his friends’ concerned faces brought him back to the present.

  “I’m—I’m all right,” he lied. “Just got dizzy for a sec. Let’s find a way to the roof. ”

  It took them a while, but they finally found a stairwell with roof access. At the top was a door with a handle alarm, but someone had propped it open with a copy of War and Peace.

  Outside, Ella the harpy huddled in a nest of books under a makeshift cardboard shelter.

  Percy and his friends advanced slowly, trying not to scare her. Ella didn’t pay them any attention. She picked at her feathers and muttered under her breath, like she was practicing lines for a play.

  Percy got within five feet and knelt down. “Hi. Sorry we scared you. Look, I don’t have much food, but…”

  He took some of the macrobiotic jerky out of his pocket. Ella lunged and snatched it immediately. She huddled back in her nest, sniffing the jerky, but sighed and tossed it away. “N-not from his table. Ella cannot eat. Sad. Jerky would be good for harpies. ”“Not from…Oh, right,” Percy said. “That’s part of the curse. You can only eat his food. ”

  “There has to be a way,” Hazel said.

  “‘Photosynthesis,’” Ella muttered. “‘Noun. Biology. The synthesis of complex organic materials. ’ ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . ’”

  “What is she saying?” Frank whispered.

  Percy stared at the mound of books around her. They all looked old and mildewed. Some had prices written in marker on the covers, like the library had gotten rid of them in a clearance sale.

  “She’s quoting books,” Percy guessed.

  “Farmer’s Almanac 1965,” Ella said. “‘Start breeding animals, January twenty-sixth. ’”

  “Ella,” he said, “have you read all of these?”

  She blinked. “More. More downstairs. Words. Words calm Ella down. Words, words, words. ”

  Percy picked up a book at random—a tattered copy ofA History of Horseracing. “Ella, do you remember the, um, third paragraph on page sixty-two—”

  “‘Secretariat,’” Ella said instantly, “‘favored three to two-in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, finished at standing track record of one fifty-nine and two fifths. ’”

  Percy closed the book. His hands were shaking. “Word for word. ”

  “That’s amazing,” Hazel said.

  “She’s a genius chicken,” Frank agreed.

  Percy felt uneasy. He was starting to form a terrible idea about why Phineas wanted to capture Ella, and it wasn’t because she’d scratched him. Percy remembered that line she’d recited, A half-blood of the eldest gods. He was sure it was about him.

  “Ella,” he said, “we’re going to find a way to break the curse. Would you like that?”

  “‘It’s Impossible,’” she said. “‘Recorded in English by Perry Como, 1970. ’”

  “Nothing’s impossible,” Percy said. “Now, look, I’m going to say his name. You don’t have to run away. We’re going to save you from the curse. We just need to figure out a way to beat . . . Phineas. ”

  He waited for her to bolt, but she just shook her head vigorously. “N-n-no! No Phineas. Ella is quick. Too quick for him. B-but he wants to ch-chain Ella. He hurts Ella. ”

  She tried to reach the gash on her back.

  “Frank,” Percy said, “you have first-aid supplies?”

  “On it. ” Frank brought out a thermos full of nectar and explained its healing properties to Ella. When he scooted closer, she recoiled and started to shriek. Then Hazel tried, and Ella let her pour some nectar on her back. The wound began to close.

  Hazel smiled. “See? That’s better. ”

  “Phineas is bad,” Ella insisted. “And weed whackers. And cheese. ”

  “Absolutely,” Percy agreed. “
We won’t let him hurt youagain. We need to figure out how to trick him, though. You harpies must know him better than anybody. Is there any way we can trick him?”

  “N-no,” Ella said. “Tricks are for kids. 50 Tricks to Teach Your Dog, by Sophie Collins, call number six-three-six—”

  “Okay, Ella. ” Hazel spoke in a soothing voice, like she was trying to calm a horse. “But does Phineas have any weaknesses?”

  “Blind. He’s blind. ”

  Frank rolled his eyes, but Hazel continued patiently, “Right. Besides that?”

  “Chance,” she said. “Games of chance. Two to one. Bad odds. Call or fold. ”

  Percy’s spirits rose. “You mean he’s a gambler?”

  “Phineas s-sees big things. Prophecies. Fates. God stuff. Not small stuff. Random. Exciting. And he is blind. ”

  Frank rubbed his chin. “Any idea what she means?”

  Percy watched the harpy pick at her burlap dress. He felt incredibly sorry for her, but he was also starting to realize just how smart she was.

  “I think I get it,” he said. “Phineas sees the future. He knows tons of important events. But he can’t see small things—like random occurrences, spontaneous games of chance. That makes gambling exciting for him. If we can tempt him into making a bet…”

  Hazel nodded slowly. “You mean if he loses, he has to tell us where Thanatos is. But what do we have to wager? What kind of game do we play?”

  “Something simple, with high stakes,” Percy said. “Like two choices. One you live, one you die. And the prize has to be something Phineas wants…I mean, besides Ella. That’s off the table. ”

  “Sight,” Ella muttered. “Sight is good for blind men.

  Healing…nope, nope. Gaea won’t do that for Phineas. Gaea keeps Phineas b-blind, dependent on Gaea. Yep. ”

  Frank and Percy exchanged a meaningful look. “Gorgon’s blood,” they said simultaneously.

  “What?” Hazel asked.

  Frank brought out the two ceramic vials he’d retrieved from the Little Tiber. “Ella’s a genius,” he said. “Unless we die. ”

  “Don’t worry about that,” Percy said. “I’ve got a plan. ”

  XXVIII Percy

  THE OLD MAN WAS RIGHT WHERE they’d left him, in the middle of the food truck parking lot. He sat on his picnic bench with his bunny slippers propped up, eating a plate of greasy shish kebab. His weed whacker was at his side. His bathrobe was smeared with barbecue sauce.

  “Welcome back!” he called cheerfully. “I hear the flutter of nervous little wings. You’ve brought me my harpy?”

  “She’s here,” Percy said. “But she’s not yours. ”

  Phineas sucked the grease off his fingers. His milky eyes seemed fixed on a point just above Percy’s head. “I see…Well, actually, I’m blind, so I don’t see. Have you come to kill me, then? If so, good luck completing your quest. ”

 
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