The house of hades, p.44
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       The House of Hades, p.44

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
 
Page 44

 

  “You will feed the eternal darkness,” Akhlys said. “You will die in the arms of Night!”

  He was dimly aware of Annabeth shouting, throwing random pieces of drakon jerky at the goddess. The white-green poison kept pooling, little streams trickling from the plants as the venomous lake around him got wider and wider.

  Lake, he thought. Streams. Water.

  Probably it was just his brain getting fried from poison fumes, but he croaked out a laugh. Poison was liquid. If it moved like water, it must be partially water.

  He remembered some science lecture about the human body being mostly water. He remembered extracting water from Jason’s lungs back in Rome. … If he could control that, then why not other liquids?

  It was a crazy idea. Poseidon was the god of the sea, not of every liquid everywhere.

  Then again, Tartarus had its own rules. Fire was drinkable. The ground was the body of a dark god. The air was acid, and demigods could be turned into smoky corpses.

  So why not try? He had nothing left to lose.

  He glared at the poison flood encroaching from all sides. He concentrated so hard that something inside him cracked—as if a crystal ball had shattered in his stomach.

  Warmth flowed through him. The poison tide stopped.

  The fumes blew away from him—back toward the goddess. The lake of poison rolled toward her in tiny waves and rivulets.

  Akhlys shrieked. “What is this?”

  “Poison,” Percy said. “That’s your specialty, right?”

  He stood, his anger growing hotter in his gut. As the flood of venom rolled toward the goddess, the fumes began to make her cough. Her eyes watered even more.

  Oh, good, Percy thought. More water.

  Percy imagined her nose and throat filling with her own tears.

  Akhlys gagged. “I—” The tide of venom reached her feet, sizzling like droplets on a hot iron. She wailed and stumbled back.

  “Percy!” Annabeth called.

  She’d retreated to the edge of the cliff, even though the poison wasn’t after her. She sounded terrified. It took Percy a moment to realize she was terrified of him.

  “Stop…” she pleaded, her voice hoarse.

  He didn’t want to stop. He wanted to choke this goddess. He wanted to watch her drown in her own poison. He wanted to see just how much misery Misery could take.

  “Percy, please…” Annabeth’s face was still pale and corpse-like, but her eyes were the same as always. The anguish in them made Percy’s anger fade.

  He turned to the goddess. He willed the poison to recede, creating a small path of retreat along the edge of the cliff.

  “Leave!” he bellowed.

  For an emaciated ghoul, Akhlys could run pretty fast when she wanted to. She scrambled along the path, fell on her face, and got up again, wailing as she sped into the dark.

  As soon as she was gone, the pools of poison evaporated. The plants withered to dust and blew away.

  Annabeth stumbled toward him. She looked like a corpse wreathed in smoke, but she felt solid enough when she gripped his arms.

  “Percy, please don’t ever…” Her voice broke in a sob. “Some things aren’t meant to be controlled. Please. ”

  His whole body tingled with power, but the anger was subsiding. The broken glass inside him was beginning to smooth at the edges.

  “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, okay. ”

  “We have to get away from this cliff,” Annabeth said. “If Akhlys brought us here as some kind of sacrifice…”

  Percy tried to think. He was getting used to moving with the Death Mist around him. He felt more solid, more like himself. But his mind still felt stuffed with cotton.

  “She said something about feeding us to the night,” he remembered. “What was that about?”

  The temperature dropped. The abyss before them seemed to exhale.

  Percy grabbed Annabeth and backed away from the edge as a presence emerged from the void—a form so vast and shadowy, he felt like he understood the concept of dark for the first time.

  “I imagine,” said the darkness, in a feminine voice as soft as coffin lining, “that she meant Night, with a capital N. After all, I am the only one. ”

  THE WAY LEO FIGURED IT, he spent more time crashing than he did flying.

  If there were a rewards card for frequent crashers, he’d be, like, double-platinum level.

  He regained consciousness as he was free-falling through the clouds. He had a hazy memory of Khione taunting him right before he got shot into the sky. He hadn’t actually seen her, but he could never forget that snow witch’s voice. He had no idea how long he’d been gaining altitude, but at some point he must have passed out from the cold and the lack of oxygen. Now he was on his way down, heading for his biggest crash ever.

  The clouds parted around him. He saw the glittering sea far, far below. No sign of the Argo II. No sign of any coastline, familiar or otherwise, except for one tiny island at the horizon.

  Leo couldn’t fly. He had a couple of minutes at most before he’d hit the water and go ker-splat.

  He decided he didn’t like that ending to the Epic Ballad of Leo.

  He was still clutching the Archimedes sphere, which didn’t surprise him. Unconscious or not, he would never let go of his most valuable possession. With a little maneuvering, he managed to pull some duct tape from his tool belt and strap the sphere to his chest. That made him look like a low-budget Iron Man, but at least he had both hands free. He started to work, furiously tinkering with the sphere, pulling out anything he thought would help from his magic tool belt: a drop cloth, metal extenders, some string and grommets.

  Working while falling was almost impossible. The wind roared in his ears. It kept ripping tools, screws, and canvas out of his hands, but finally he constructed a makeshift frame. He popped open a hatch on the sphere, teased out two wires, and connected them to his crossbar.

  How long until he hit the water? Maybe a minute?

  He turned the sphere’s control dial, and it whirred into action. More bronze wires shot from the orb, intuitively sensing what Leo needed. Cords laced up the canvas drop cloth. The frame began to expand on its own. Leo pulled out a can of kerosene and a rubber tube and lashed them to the thirsty new engine that the orb was helping him assemble.

  Finally he made himself a rope halter and shifted so that the X-frame was attached to his back. The sea got closer and closer—a glittering expanse of slap-you-in-the-face death.

  He yelled in defiance and punched the sphere’s override switch.

  The engine coughed to life. The makeshift rotor turned. The canvas blades spun, but much too slowly. Leo’s head was pointed straight down at the sea—maybe thirty seconds to impact.

  At least nobody’s around, he thought bitterly, or I’d be a demigod joke forever. What was the last thing to go through Leo’s mind? The Mediterranean.

  Suddenly the orb got warm against his chest. The blades turned faster. The engine coughed, and Leo tilted sideways, slicing through the air.

  “YES!” he yelled.

  He had successfully created the world’s most dangerous personal helicopter.

  He shot toward the island in the distance, but he was still falling much too fast. The blades shuddered. The canvas screamed.

  The beach was only a few hundred yards away when the sphere turned lava-hot and the helicopter exploded, shooting flames in every direction. If he hadn’t been immune to fire, Leo would have been charcoal. As it was, the midair explosion probably saved his life. The blast flung Leo sideways while the bulk of his flaming contraption smashed into the shore at full speed with a massive KA-BOOM!

  Leo opened his eyes, amazed to be alive. He was sitting in a bathtub-sized crater in the sand. A few yards away, a column of thick black smoke roiled into the sky from a much larger crater. The surrounding beach was peppered with smaller pieces of burning wreckage.

  “My sphere.
Leo patted his chest. The sphere wasn’t there. His duct tape and rope halter had disintegrated.

  He struggled to his feet. None of his bones seemed broken, which was good; but mostly he was worried about his Archimedes sphere. If he’d destroyed his priceless artifact to make a flaming thirty-second helicopter, he was going to track down that stupid snow goddess Khione and smack her with a monkey wrench.

  He staggered across the beach, wondering why there weren’t any tourists or hotels or boats in sight. The island seemed perfect for a resort, with blue water and soft white sand. Maybe it was uncharted. Did they still have uncharted islands in the world? Maybe Khione had blasted him out of the Mediterranean altogether. For all he knew, he was in Bora Bora.

  The larger crater was about eight feet deep. At the bottom, the helicopter blades were still trying to turn. The engine belched smoke. The rotor croaked like a stepped-on frog, but dang—pretty impressive for a rush job.

  The helicopter had apparently crashed onto something. The crater was littered with broken wooden furniture, shattered china plates, some half-melted pewter goblets, and burning linen napkins. Leo wasn’t sure why all that fancy stuff had been on the beach, but at least it meant that this place was inhabited, after all.

  Finally he spotted the Archimedes sphere—steaming and charred but still intact, making unhappy clicking noises in the center of the wreckage.

  “Sphere!” he yelled. “Come to Papa!”

  He skidded to the bottom of the crater and snatched up the sphere. He collapsed, sat cross-legged, and cradled the device in his hands. The bronze surface was searing hot, but Leo didn’t care. It was still in one piece, which meant he could use it.

  Now, if he could just figure out where he was, and how to get back to his friends. …

  He was making a mental list of tools he might need when a girl’s voice interrupted him: “What are you doing? You blew up my dining table!”

  Immediately Leo thought: Uh-oh.

  He’d met a lot of goddesses, but the girl glaring down at him from the edge of the crater actually looked like a goddess.

  She wore a sleeveless white Greek-style dress with a gold braided belt. Her hair was long, straight, and golden brown—almost the same cinnamon-toast color as Hazel’s, but the similarity to Hazel ended there. The girl’s face was milky pale, with dark, almond-shaped eyes and pouty lips. She looked maybe fifteen, about Leo’s age, and, sure, she was pretty; but with that angry expression on her face she reminded Leo of every popular girl in every school he’d ever attended—the ones who made fun of him, gossiped a lot, thought they were so superior, and basically did everything they could to make his life miserable.

  Leo disliked her instantly.

  “Oh, I’m sorry!” he said. “I just fell out of the sky. I constructed a helicopter in midair, burst into flames halfway down, crash-landed, and barely survived. But by all means—let’s talk about your dining table!”

  He snatched up a half-melted goblet. “Who puts a dining table on the beach where innocent demigods can crash into it? Who does that?”

  The girl clenched her fists. Leo was pretty sure she was going to march down the crater and punch him in the face. Instead she looked up at the sky.

  “REALLY?” she screamed at the empty blue. “You want to make my curse even worse? Zeus! Hephaestus! Hermes! Have you no shame?”

 
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