The son of neptune, p.39
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       The Son of Neptune, p.39

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 39


  “You gave up Elysium,” Frank said in amazement, “so your mother wouldn’t suffer?”

  “She didn’t deserve Punishment,” Hazel said.

  “But…what happens now?”

  “Nothing,” Hazel said. “Nothing…for all eternity. ”

  They drifted aimlessly. Spirits around them chattered like bats—lost and confused, not remembering their past or even their names.

  Hazel remembered everything. Perhaps that was because she was a daughter of Pluto, but she never forgot who she was, or why she was there.

  “Remembering made my afterlife harder,” she told Frank, who still drifted next to her as a glowing purple Lar. “So many times I tried to walk to my father’s palace. …” She pointed to a large black castle in the distance. “I could never reach it. I can’t leave the Fields of Asphodel. ”

  “Did you ever see your mother again?”

  Hazel shook her head. “She wouldn’t know me, even if I could find her. These spirits…it’s like an eternal dream for them, an endless trance. This is the best I could do for her. ”

  Time was meaningless, but after an eternity, she and Frank sat together under a black poplar tree, listening to the screams from the Fields of Punishment. In the distance, under the artificial sunlight of Elysium, the Isles of the Blest glittered like emeralds in a sparkling blue lake. White sails cut across water and the souls of great heroes basked on the beaches in perpetual bliss.

  “You didn’t deserve Asphodel,” Frank protested. “You should be with the heroes. ”

  “This is just an echo,” Hazel said. “We’ll wake up, Frank. It only seems like forever. ”

  “That’s not the point!” he protested. “Your life was taken from you. You were going to grow up to be a beautiful woman. You. . . ”

  His face turned a darker shade of purple. “You were going to marry someone,” he said quietly. “You would have had a good life. You lost all that. ”

  Hazel swallowed back a sob. It hadn’t been this hard in Asphodel the first time, when she was on her own. Having Frank with her made her feel so much sadder. But she was determined not to get angry about her fate.

  Hazel thought about that image of herself as an adult, smiling and in love. She knew it wouldn’t take much bitterness to sour her expression and make her look exactly like Queen Marie. I deserve better, her mother always said. Hazel couldn’t allow herself to feel that way.

  “I’m sorry, Frank,” she said. “I think your mother was wrong. Sometimes sharing a problem doesn’t make it easier to carry. ”

  “But it does. ” Frank slipped his hand into his coat pocket.

  “In fact…since we’ve got eternity to talk, there’s something I want to tell you. ”

  He brought out an object wrapped in cloth, about the same size as a pair of glasses. When he unfolded it, Hazel saw a half-burned piece of driftwood, glowing with purple light.

  She frowned. “What is…” Then the truth hit her, as cold and harsh as a blast of winter wind. “Phineas said your life depends on a burned stick—”

  “It’s true,” Frank said. “This is my lifeline, literally. ”

  He told her how the goddess Juno had appeared when he was a baby, how his grandmother had snatched the piece of wood from the fireplace. “Grandmother said I had gifts—some talent we got from our ancestor, the Argonaut. That, and my dad’s being Mars…” He shrugged. “I’m supposed to be too powerful or something. That’s why my life can burn up so easily. Iris said I would die holding this, watching it burn. ”

  Frank turned the piece of tinder in his fingers. Even in his ghostly purple form, he looked so big and sturdy. Hazel figured he would be huge when he was an adult—as strong and healthy as an ox. She couldn’t believe his life depended on something as small as a stick.

  “Frank, how can you carry it around with you?” she asked. “Aren’t you terrified something will happen to it?”

  “That’s why I’m telling you. ” He held out the firewood. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but would you keep it for me?”

  Hazel’s head spun. Until now, she’d accepted Frank’s presence in her blackout. She’d led him along, numbly replaying her past, because it seemed only fair to show him the truth.

  But now she wondered if Frank was really experiencing this with her, or if she was just imagining his presence. Why would he trust her with his life?

  “Frank,” she said, “you know who I am. I’m Pluto’s daughter. Everything I touch goes wrong. Why would you trust me?”

  “You’re my best friend. ” He placed the firewood in her hands. “I trust you more than anybody. ”

  She wanted to tell him he was making a mistake. She wanted to give it back. But before she could say anything, a shadow fell over them.

  “Our ride is here,” Frank guessed.

  Hazel had almost forgotten she was reliving her past. Nicodi Angelo stood over her in his black overcoat, his Stygian iron sword at his side. He didn’t notice Frank, but he locked eyes with Hazel and seemed to read her whole life.

  “You’re different,” he said. “A child of Pluto. You remember your past. ”

  “Yes,” Hazel said. “And you’re alive. ”

  Nico studied her like he was reading a menu, deciding whether or not to order.

  “I’m Nico di Angelo,” he said. “I came looking for my sister. Death has gone missing, so I thought…I thought I could bring her back and no one would notice. ”

  “Back to life?” Hazel asked. “Is that possible?”

  “It should have been. ” Nico sighed. “But she’s gone. She chose to be reborn into a new life. I’m too late. ”

  “I’m sorry. ”

  He held out his hand. “You’re my sister too. You deserve another chance. Come with me. ”

  XXX Hazel

  “HAZEL. ” PERCY WAS SHAKING HER SHOULDER. “Wake up. We’ve reached Seattle. ”

  She sat up groggily, squinting in the morning sunlight. “Frank?”

  Frank groaned, rubbing his eyes. “Did we just…was I just—?”

  “You both passed out,” Percy said. “I don’t know why, but Ella told me not to worry about it. She said you were…sharing?”

  “Sharing,” Ella agreed. She crouched in the stern, preening her wing feathers with her teeth, which didn’t look like a very effective form of personal hygiene. She spit out some red fluff. “Sharing is good. No more blackouts. Biggest American blackout, August 14, 2003. Hazel shared. No more blackouts. ” Percy scratched his head. “Yeah…we’ve been having conversations like that all night. I still don’t know what she’stalking about. ”

  Hazel pressed her hand against her coat pocket. She could feel the piece of firewood, wrapped in cloth.

  She looked at Frank. “You were there. ”

  He nodded. He didn’t say anything, but his expression was clear: He’d meant what he said. He wanted her to keep the piece of tinder safe. She wasn’t sure whether she felt honored or scared. No one had ever trusted her with something so important.

  “Wait,” Percy said. “You mean you guys shared a blackout? Are you guys both going to pass out from now on?”

  “Nope,” Ella said. “Nope, nope, nope. No more blackouts. More books for Ella. Books in Seattle. ”

  Hazel gazed over the water. They were sailing through a large bay, making their way toward a cluster of downtown buildings. Neighborhoods rolled across a series of hills. From the tallest one rose an odd white tower with a saucer on the top, like a spaceship from the old Flash Gordon movies Sammy used to love.

  No more blackouts? Hazel thought. After enduring them for so long, the idea seemed too good to be true.

  How could Ella be sure they were gone? Yet Hazel did feel different . . . more grounded, as if she wasn’t trying to live in two time periods anymore. Every muscle in her body began to relax. She felt as if she’d finally slipped out of a lead jacket she’d been wearing for months. Somehow, having Frank with her during
the blackout had helped. She’d relived her entire past, right through to the present. No wall she had to worry about was the future—assuming shehad one.

  Percy steered the boat toward the downtown docks. As they got closer, Ella scratched nervously at her nest of books.

  Hazel started to feel edgy, too. She wasn’t sure why. It was a bright, sunny day, and Seattle looked like a beautiful place, with inlets and bridges, wooded islands dotting the bay, and snowcapped mountains rising in the distance. Still, she felt as if she were being watched.

  “Um…why are we stopping here?” she asked.

  Percy showed them the silver ring on his necklace. “Reyna has a sister here. She asked me to find her and show her this. ”

  “Reyna has a sister?” Frank asked, like the idea terrified him.

  Percy nodded. “Apparently Reyna thinks her sister could send help for the camp. ”

  “Amazons,” Ella muttered. “Amazon country. Hmm. Ella will find libraries instead. Doesn’t like Amazons. Fierce. Shields. Swords. Pointy. Ouch. ”

  Frank reached for his spear. “Amazons? Like…female warriors?”

  “That would make sense,” Hazel said. “If Reyna’s sister is also a daughter of Bellona, I can see why she’d join the Amazons. But…is it safe for us to be here?”

  “Nope, nope, nope,” Ella said. “Get books instead. No Amazons. ”

  “We have to try,” Percy said. “I promised Reyna. Besides, the Pax isn’t doing too great. I’ve been pushing it pretty hard. ”

  Hazel looked down at her feet. Water was leaking between the floorboards. “Oh. ”

  “Yeah,” Percy agreed. “We’ll either need to fix it or find a new boat. I’m pretty much holding it together with my willpower at this point. Ella, do you have any idea where we can find the Amazons?”

  “And, um,” Frank said nervously, “they don’t, like, kill men on sight, do they?”

  Ella glanced at the downtown docks, only a few hundred yards away. “Ella will find friends later. Ella will fly away now. ”

  And she did.

  “Well…” Frank picked a single red feather out of the air. “That’s encouraging. ”

  They docked at the wharf. They barely had time to unload their supplies before the Pax shuddered and broke into pieces. Most of it sank, leaving only a board with a painted eye and another with the letter P bobbing in the waves.

  “Guess we’re not fixing it,” Hazel said. “What now?”

  Percy stared at the steep hills of downtown Seattle. “We hope the Amazons will help. ”

  They explored for hours. They found some great salty caramel chocolate at a candy store. They bought some coffee so strong, Hazel’s head felt like a vibrating gong. They stopped at a sidewalk café and had some excellent grilled salmon sandwiches.

  Once they saw Ella zooming between high-rise towers, a large book clutched in each foot. But they found no Amazons. All the while, Hazel was aware of the time ticking by. June 22 now, and Alaska was still a long way away.

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