The son of neptune, p.45
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       The Son of Neptune, p.45
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         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 45

 

  He glared down at broken tip of his spear. He wished he had any father but Mars. “Let’s go,” he said. “My grandmother might be in trouble. ”

  XXXIV Frank

  THEY STOPPED AT THE FRONT PORCH. As Frank had feared, a loose ring of campfires glowed in the woods, completely surrounding the property, but the house itself seemed untouched.

  Grandmother’s wind chimes jangled in the night breeze. Her wicker chair sat empty, facing the road. Lights shone through the downstairs windows, but Frank decided against ringing the doorbell. He didn’t know how late it was, or if Grandmother was asleep or even home. Instead he checked the stone elephant statue in the corner—a tiny duplicate of the one in Portland. The spare key was still tucked under its foot.

  He hesitated at the door.

  “What’s wrong?” Percy asked.

  Frank remembered the morning he’d opened this door for the military officer who had told him about his mother. He remembered walking down these steps to her funeral, holding his piece of firewood in his coat for the first time. He remembered standing here and watching the wolves come out of the woods—Lupa’s minions, who would lead him to Camp Jupiter. That seemed so long ago, but it had only been six weeks.

  Now he was back. Would Grandmother hug him? Would she say, Frank, thank the gods you’ve come! I’m surrounded by monsters!

  More likely she’d scold him, or mistake them for intruders and chase them off with a frying pan.

  “Frank?” Hazel asked.

  “Ella is nervous,” the harpy muttered from her perch on the railing. “The elephant—the elephant is looking at Ella. ”

  “It’ll be fine. ” Frank’s hand was shaking so badly he could barely fit the key in the lock. “Just stay together. ”

  Inside, the house smelled closed-up and musty. Usually the air was scented with jasmine incense, but all the burners were empty.

  They examined the living room, the dining room, the kitchen. Dirty dishes were stacked in the sink, which wasn’t right. Grandmother’s maid came every day—unless she’d been scared off by the giants.

  Or eaten for lunch, Frank thought. Ella had said the Laistrygonians were cannibals.

  He pushed that thought aside. Monsters ignored regular mortals. At least, they usually did.

  In the parlor, Buddha statues and Taoist immortals grinned at them like psycho clowns. Frank remembered Iris, the rainbow goddess, who’d been dabbling in Buddhism and Taoism. Frank figured one visit to this creepy old house would cure her of that.

  Grandmother’s large porcelain vases were strung with cobwebs. Again—that wasn’t right. She insisted that her collection be dusted regularly. Looking at the porcelain, Frank felt a twinge of guilt for having destroyed so many pieces the day of the funeral. It seemed silly to him now—getting angry at Grandmother when he had so many others to be angry at: Juno, Gaea, the giants, his dad Mars. Especially Mars.

  The fireplace was dark and cold.

  Hazel hugged her chest as if to keep the piece of firewood from jumping into the hearth. “Is that—”

  “Yeah,” Frank said. “That’s it. ”

  “That’s what?” Percy asked.

  Hazel’s expression was sympathetic, but that just made Frank feel worse. He remembered how terrified, how repulsed she had looked when he had summoned Gray.

  “It’s the fireplace,” he told Percy, which sounded stupidly obvious. “Come on. Let’s check upstairs. ”

  The steps creaked under their feet. Frank’s old room was the same. None of his things had been touched—his extra bow and quiver (he’d have to grab those later), his spelling awards from school (yeah, he probably was the only non-dyslexic spelling champion demigod in the world, as if he weren’t enough of a freak already), and his photos of his mom—in her flak jacket and helmet, sitting on a Humvee in Kandahar Province; in her soccer coach uniform, the season she’d coached Frank’s team; in her military dress uniform, her hands on Frank’s shoulders, the time she’d visited his school for career day.

  “Your mother?” Hazel asked gently. “She’s beautiful. ”

  Frank couldn’t answer. He felt a little embarrassed—a sixteen-year-old guy with a bunch of pictures of his mom.

  How hopelessly lame was that? But mostly he felt sad. Six weeks since he’d been here. In some ways it seemed like forever. But when he looked at his mom’s smiling face in those photos, the pain of losing her was as fresh as ever.

  They checked the other bedrooms. The middle two were empty. A dim light flickered under the last door—Grandmother’s room.

  Frank knocked quietly. No one answered. He pushed open her door. Grandmother lay in bed, looking gaunt and frail, her white hair spread around her face like a basilisk’s crown. A single candle burned on the nightstand. At her bedside sat a large man in beige Canadian Forces fatigues. Despite the gloom, he wore dark sunglasses with blood red light glowing behind the lenses.

  “Mars,” Frank said.

  The god looked up impassively. “Hey, kid. Come on in. Tell your friends to take a hike. ”

  “Frank?” Hazel whispered. “What do mean, Mars? Is your grandmother . . . is she okay?”

  Frank glanced at his friends. “You don’t see him?”

  “See who?” Percy gripped his sword. “Mars? Where?”

  The war god chuckled. “Nah, they can’t see me. Figured it was better this time. Just a private conversation—father/son, right?”

  Frank clenched his fists. He counted to ten before he trusted himself to speak.

  “Guys, it’s…it’s nothing. Listen, why don’t you take the middle bedrooms?”

  “Roof,” Ella said. “Roofs are good for harpies. ”

  “Sure,” Frank said in a daze. “There’s probably food in the kitchen. Would you give me a few minutes alone with my grandmother? I think she—”

  His voice broke. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to cry orscream or punch Mars in the glasses—maybe all three.

  Hazel laid her hand on his arm. “Of course, Frank. Come on, Ella, Percy. ”

  Frank waited until his friends’ steps receded. Then he walked into the bedroom and closed the door.

  “Is it really you?” he asked Mars. “This isn’t a trick or illusion or something?”

  The god shook his head. “You’d prefer it if it wasn’t me?”

  “Yes,” Frank confessed.

  Mars shrugged. “Can’t blame you. Nobody welcomes war—not if they’re smart. But war finds everyone sooner or later. It’s inevitable. ”

  “That’s stupid,” Frank said. “War isn’t inevitable. It kills people. It—”

  “—took your mom,” Mars finished.

  Frank wanted to smack the calm look off his face, but maybe that was just Mars’s aura making him feel aggressive. He looked down at his grandmother, sleeping peacefully. He wished she would wake up. If anyone could take on a war god, his grandmother could.

  “She’s ready to die,” Mars said. “She’s been ready for weeks, but she’s holding on for you. ”

  “For me?” Frank was so stunned he almost forgot his anger. “Why? How could she know I was coming back? I didn’t know!”

  “The Laistrygonians outside knew,” Mars said. “I imagine a certain goddess told them. ”

  Frank blinked. “Juno?”

  The war god laughed so loudly the windows rattled, but Grandmother didn’t even stir. “Juno? Boar’s whiskers, kid. Not Juno! You’re Juno’s secret weapon. She wouldn’t sell you out. No, I meant Gaea. Obviously she’s been keeping track of you. I think you worry her more than Percy or Jason or any of the seven. ”

  Frank felt like the room was tilting. He wished there were another chair to sit in. “The seven…you mean in the ancient prophecy, the Doors of Death? I’m one of the seven? And Jason, and—”

  “Yes, yes. ” Mars waved his hand impatiently. “Come on, boy. You’re supposed to be a good tactician. Think it through! Obviously your friends are being gro
omed for that mission too, assuming you make it back from Alaska alive. Juno aims to unite the Greeks and Romans and send them against the giants. She believes it’s the only way to stop Gaea. ”

  Mars shrugged, clearly unconvinced of the plan. “Anyway, Gaea doesn’t want you to be one of the seven. Percy Jackson…she believes she can control him. All of the others have weaknesses she can exploit. But you—you worry her. She’d rather kill you right away. That’s why she summoned the Laistrygonians. They’ve been here for days, waiting. ”

  Frank shook his head. Was Mars playing some kind of trick? No way would a goddess be worried about Frank, especially when there was somebody like Percy Jackson to worry about.

  “No weaknesses?” he asked. “I’m nothing but weaknesses. My life depends on a piece of wood!”

  Mars grinned. “You’re selling yourself short. Anyway, Gaea has these Laistrygonians convinced that if they eat the last member of your family—that being you—they’ll inherit your family gift. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But the Laistrygonians are hungry to try. ”

  Frank’s stomach twisted into a knot. Gray had killed six of the ogres, but judging from the campfires around the property, there were dozens more—all waiting to cook Frank for breakfast.

  “I’m going to throw up,” he said.

  “No, you’re not. ” Mars snapped his fingers, and Frank’s queasiness disappeared. “Battle jitters. Happens to everybody. ”

  “But my grandmother—”

  “Yeah, she’s been waiting to talk to you. The ogres have left her alone so far. She’s the bait, see? Now that you’re here, I imagine they’ve already smelled your presence. They’ll attack in the morning. ”

  “Get us out of here, then!” Frank demanded. “Snap your fingers and blow up the cannibals. ”

  “Ha! That would be fun. But I don’t fight my kids’ battles for them. The Fates have clear ideas about what jobs belong to gods, and what has to be done by mortals. This is your quest, kid. And, uh, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, your spear won’t be ready to use again for twenty-four hours, so I hope you’ve learned how to use the family gift. Otherwise, you’re gonna be breakfast for cannibals. ”

  The family gift. Frank had wanted to talk with Grandmother about it, but now he had no one to consult but Mars. He stared at the war god, who was smiling with absolutely no sympathy.

  “Periclymenus. ” Frank sounded out the word carefully, like a spelling-bee challenge. “He was my ancestor, a Greek prince, an Argonaut. He died fighting Hercules. ”

  Mars rolled his hand in a “go on” gesture.

  “He had an ability that helped him in combat,” Frank said. “Some sort of gift from the gods. My mom said he fought like a swarm of bees. ”

  Mars laughed. “True enough. What else?”

  “Somehow, the family got to China. I think, like in the days of the Roman Empire, one of Pericylmenus’s descendants served in a legion. My mom used to talk about a guy named Seneca Gracchus, but he also had a Chinese name, Sung Guo. I think—well, this is the part I don’t know, but Reyna always said there were many lost legions. The Twelfth founded Camp Jupiter. Maybe there was another legion that disappeared into the east. ”

 
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