The son of neptune, p.38
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       The Son of Neptune, p.38

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 38

 

  Percy handed her the whole bag of jerky and she squeaked with joy. “Nope, nope, nope,” she muttered, half-singing. “Phineas, nope. Food and words for Ella, yep. ”

  Percy crouched over the bathrobe and pulled the old man’s note out of the pocket. It read: HUBBARD GLACIER.

  All that risk for two words. He handed the note to Hazel.

  “I know where that is,” she said. “It’s pretty famous. But we’ve got a long, long way to go. ”

  In the trees around the parking lot, the other harpies finally overcame their shock. They squawked with excitement and flew at the nearest food trucks, diving through the service windows and raiding the kitchens. Cooks shouted in many languages. Trucks shook back and forth. Feathers and food boxes flew everywhere.

  “We’d better get back to the boat,” Percy said. “We’re running out of time. ”

  XXIX Hazel

  EVEN BEFORE SHE GOT ON THE BOAT, Hazel felt queasy.

  She kept thinking about Phineas with steam coming out of his eyes, his hands crumbling to dust. Percy had assured her that she wasn’t like Phineas. But she was. She’d done something even worse than torment harpies.

  You started this whole thing! Phineas had said. If it weren’t for you, Alcyoneus wouldn’t be alive!

  As the boat sped down the Columbia River, Hazel tried to forget. She helped Ella make a nest out of old books and magazines they’d liberated from the library’s recycling bin.

  They hadn’t really planned on taking the harpy with them, but Ella acted like the matter was decided.

  “Friends,” she muttered. “‘Ten seasons. 1994 to 2004. ’ Friends melt Phineas and give Ella jerky. Ella will go with her friends. ”

  Now she was roosting comfortably in the stern, nibbling bits of jerky and reciting random lines from Charles Dickens and 50 Tricks to Teach Your Dog.

  Percy knelt in the bow, steering them toward the ocean with his freaky mind-over-water powers. Hazel sat next to Frank on the center bench, their shoulders touching, which made her feel as jittery as a harpy.

  She remembered how Frank stood up for her in Portland, shouting, “She’s a good person!” like he was ready to take on anybody who denied it.

  She remembered the way he had looked on the hillside in Mendocino, alone in a clearing of poisoned grass with his spear in hand, fires burning all around him and the ashes of three basilisks at his feet.

  A week ago, if someone had suggested that Frank was a child of Mars, Hazel would have laughed. Frank was much too sweet and gentle for that. She had always felt protective of him because of his clumsiness and his knack for getting into trouble.

  Since they’d left camp, she saw him differently. He had more courage than she’d realized. He was the one looking out for her. She had to admit that the change was kind of nice.

  The river widened into the ocean. The Pax turned north. As they sailed, Frank kept her spirits up by telling her silly jokes—Why did the Minotaur cross the road? How many fauns does it take to change a lightbulb? He pointed out buildings along the coastline that reminded him of places in Vancouver.

  The sky started to darken, the sea turning the same rusty color as Ella’s wings. June 21 was almost over. The Feast of Fortuna would happen in the evening, exactly seventy-two hours from now.

  Finally Frank brought out some food from his pack—sodas and muffins he’d scavenged from Phineas’s table. He passed them around.

  “It’s okay, Hazel,” he said quietly. “My mom used to say you shouldn’t try to carry a problem alone. But if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay. ”

  Hazel took a shaky breath. She was afraid to talk—not just because she was embarrassed. She didn’t want to black out and slip into the past.

  “You were right,” she said, “when you guessed I came back from the Underworld. I’m…I’m an escapee. I shouldn’t be alive. ”

  She felt like a dam had broken. The story flooded out. She explained how her mother had summoned Pluto and fallen in love with the god. She explained her mother’s wish for all the riches in the earth, and how that had turned into Hazel’s curse. She described her life in New Orleans—everything except her boyfriend Sammy. Looking at Frank, she couldn’t bring herself to talk about that.

  She described the Voice, and how Gaea had slowly taken over her mother’s mind. She explained how they had moved to Alaska, how Hazel had helped to raise the giant Alcyoneus, and how she had died, sinking the island into Resurrection Bay.

  She knew Percy and Ella were listening, but she spoke mostly to Frank. When she had finished, she was afraid to look at him. She waited for him to move away from her, maybe tell her she was a monster after all.

  Instead, he took her hand. “You sacrificed yourself to stop the giant from waking. I could never be that brave. ”

  She felt her pulse throbbing in her neck. “It wasn’t bravery. I let my mother die. I cooperated with Gaea too long. I almost let her win. ”

  “Hazel,” said Percy. “You stood up to a goddess all by yourself. You did the right…” His voice trailed off, as if he’d had an unpleasant thought. “What happened in the Underworld…I mean, after you died? You should’ve gone to Elysium. But if Nico brought you back—”

  “I didn’t go to Elysium. ” Her mouth felt dry as sand. “Please don’t ask…”

  But it was too late. She remembered her descent into the darkness, her arrival on the banks of the River Styx, and her consciousness began to slip.

  “Hazel?” Frank asked.

  “‘Slip Sliding Away,’” Ella muttered. “Number five U. S. single. Paul Simon. Frank, go with her. Simon says, Frank, go with her. ”

  Hazel had no idea what Ella was talking about, but her vision darkened as she clung to Frank’s hand.

  She found herself back in the Underworld, and this time Frank was at her side.

  They stood in Charon’s boat, crossing the Styx. Debris swirled in the dark waters—a deflated birthday balloon, a child’s pacifier, a little plastic bride and groom from the top of a cake—all the remnants of human lives cut short.

  “Wh-where are we?” Frank stood at her side, shimmering with a ghostly purple light as if he’d become a Lar.

  “It’s my past. ” Hazel felt strangely calm. “It’s just an echo. Don’t worry. ”

  The boatman turned and grinned. One moment he was a handsome African man in an expensive silk suit. The next moment he was a skeleton in a dark robe. “’Course you shouldn’t worry,” he said with a British accent. He addressed Hazel, as if he couldn’t see Frank at all. “Told you I’d take you across, didn’t I? ’Sall right you don’t have a coin. Wouldn’t be proper, leaving Pluto’s daughter on the wrong side of the river. ”

  The boat slid onto a dark beach. Hazel led Frank to the black gates of Erebos. The spirits parted for them, sensing she was a child of Pluto. The giant three-headed dog Cerberus growled in the gloom, but he let them pass. Inside the gates, they walked into a large pavilion and stood before the judges’ bench. Three black-robed figures in golden masks stared down at Hazel.

  Frank whimpered. “Who—?”

  “They’ll decide my fate,” she said. “Watch. ”

  Just as before, the judges asked her no questions. They simply looked into her mind, pulling thoughts from her head and examining them like a collection of old photos.

  “Thwarted Gaea,” the first judge said. “Prevented Alcyoneus from waking. ”

  “But she raised the giant in the first place,” the second judge argued. “Guilty of cowardice, weakness. ”

  “She is young,” said the third judge. “Her mother’s life hung in the balance. ”

  “My mother. ” Hazel found the courage to speak. “Where is she? What is her fate?”

  The judges regarded her, their golden masks frozen in creepy smiles. “Your mother…”

  The image of Marie Levesque shimmered above the judges. She was frozen in time, hugging Hazel as the cave colla
psed, her eyes shut tight.

  “An interesting question,” the second judge said. “The division of fault. ”

  “Yes,” said the first judge. “The child died for a noble cause. She prevented many deaths by delaying the giant’s rise. She had courage to stand against the might of Gaea. ”

  “But she acted too late,” the third judge said sadly. “She is guilty of aiding and abetting an enemy of the gods. ”

  “The mother influenced her,” said the first judge. “The child can have Elysium. Eternal Punishment for Marie Levesque. ”

  “No!” Hazel shouted. “No, please! That’s not fair. ”

  The judges tilted their heads in unison. Gold masks, Hazel thought. Gold has always been cursed for me. She wondered if the gold was poisoning their thoughts somehow, so that they’d never give her a fair trial.

  “Beware, Hazel Levesque,” the first judge warned. “Would you take full responsibility? You could lay this guilt on your mother’s soul. That would be reasonable. You were destined for great things. Your mother diverted your path. See what you might have been. …”

  Another image appeared above the judges. Hazel saw herself as a little girl, grinning, with her hands covered in finger paint. The image aged. Hazel saw herself growing up—her hair became longer, her eyes sadder. She saw herself on her thirteenth birthday, riding across the fields on her borrowed horse. Sammy laughed as he raced after her: What are you running from? I’m not that ugly, am I? She saw herself in Alaska, trudging down Third Street in the snow and darkness on her way home from school.

  Then the image aged even more. Hazel saw herself at twenty. She looked so much like her mother, her hair gathered back in braids, her golden eyes flashing with amusement. She wore a white dress—a wedding dress? She was smiling so warmly, Hazel knew instinctively she must be looking at someone special—someone she loved.

  The sight didn’t make her feel bitter. She didn’t even wonder whom she would have married. Instead she thought: My mother might’ve looked like this if she’d let go of her anger, if Gaea hadn’t twisted her.

  “You lost this life,” the first judge said simply. “Special circumstances. Elysium for you. Punishment for your mother. ”

  “No,” Hazel said. “No, it wasn’t all her fault. She was misled. She loved me. At the end, she tried to protect me. ”

  “Hazel,” Frank whispered. “What are you doing?”

  She squeezed his hand, urging him to be silent. The judges paid him no attention.

  Finally the second judge sighed. “No resolution. Not enough good. Not enough evil. ”

  “The blame must be divided,” the first judge agreed. “Both souls will be consigned to the Fields of Asphodel. I’m sorry, Hazel Levesque. You could have been a hero. ”

  She passed through the pavilion, into yellow fields that went on forever. She led Frank through a crowd of spirits to a grove of black poplar trees.

 
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