The son of neptune, p.52
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       The Son of Neptune, p.52

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
 
Page 52

 

  Percy glanced over and noticed Frank’s spear was gone. “Used your last charge?”

  “Yeah. ” Frank shot another gryphon out of the sky. “I had to help the mortals. The spear just dissolved. ”

  Percy nodded. Part of him was relieved. He didn’t like the skeleton warrior. Part of him was disappointed, because that was one less weapon they had at their disposal. But he didn’t fault Frank. Frank had done the right thing.

  “Let’s move the fight!” Percy said. “Away from the tracks!” They stumbled through the snow, smacking and slicing gryphons that re-formed from dust every time they were killed.

  Percy had had no experience with gryphons. He’d always imagined them as huge noble animals, like lions with wings, but these things reminded him more of vicious pack hunters—flying hyenas.

  About fifty yards from the tracks, the trees gave way to an open marsh. The ground was so spongy and icy, Percy felt like he was racing across Bubble Wrap. Frank was running out of arrows. Hazel was breathing hard. Percy’s own sword swings were getting slower. He realized they were alive only because the gryphons weren’t trying to kill them. The gryphons wanted to pick them up and carry them off somewhere.

  Maybe to their nests, Percy thought.

  Then he tripped over something in the tall grass—a circle of scrap metal about the size of a tractor tire. It was a massive bird’s nest—a gryphon’s nest—the bottom littered with old pieces of jewelry, an Imperial gold dagger, a dented centurion’s badge, and two pumpkin-sized eggs that looked like real gold.

  Percy jumped into the nest. He pressed his sword tip against one of the eggs. “Back off, or I break it!”

  The gryphons squawked angrily. They buzzed around the nest and snapped their beaks, but they didn’t attack. Hazel and Frank stood back to back with Percy, their weapons ready.

  “Gryphons collect gold,” Hazel said. “They’re crazy for it. Look—more nests over there. ”

  Frank nocked his last arrow. “So if these are their nests, where were they trying to take Percy? That thing was flying away with him. ”

  Percy’s arms still throbbed where the gryphon had grabbed him. “Alcyoneus,” he guessed. “Maybe they’re working for him. Are these things smart enough to take orders?”

  “I don’t know,” Hazel said. “I never fought them when I lived here. I just read about them at camp. ”

  “Weaknesses?” Frank asked. “Please tell me they have weaknesses. ”

  Hazel scowled. “Horses. They hate horses—natural enemies, or something. I wish Arion was here!”

  The gryphons shrieked. They swirled around the nest with their red eyes glowing.

  “Guys,” Frank said nervously, “I see legion relics in this nest. ”

  “I know,” Percy said.

  “That means other demigods died here, or—”

  “Frank, it’ll be okay,” Percy promised.

  One of the gryphons dived in. Percy raised his sword, ready to stab the egg. The monster veered off, but the other gryphons were losing their patience. Percy couldn’t keep this standoff going much longer.

  He glanced around the fields, desperately trying to formulate a plan. About a quarter mile away, a Hyperborean giant was sitting in the bog, peacefully picking mud from between his toes with a broken tree trunk.

  “I’ve got an idea,” Percy said. “Hazel—all the gold in these nests. Do you think you can use it to cause a distraction?”

  “I—I guess. ”

  “Just give us enough time for a head start. When I say go, run for that giant. ”

  Frank gaped at him. “You want us to run toward a giant?”

  “Trust me,” Percy said. “Ready? Go!”

  Hazel thrust her hand upward. From a dozen nests across the marsh, golden objects shot into the air—jewelry, weapons, coins, gold nuggets, and most importantly, gryphon eggs. The monsters shrieked and flew after their eggs, frantic to save them.

  Percy and his friends ran. Their feet splashed and crunched through the frozen marsh. Percy poured on speed, but he could hear the gryphons closing behind them, and now the monsters were really angry.

  The giant hadn’t noticed the commotion yet. He was inspecting his toes for mud, his face sleepy and peaceful, his white whiskers glistening with ice crystals. Around his neck was a necklace of found objects—garbage cans, car doors, moose antlers, camping equipment, even a toilet. Apparently he’d been cleaning up the wilderness.

  Percy hated to disturb him, especially since it meant taking shelter under the giant’s thighs, but they didn’t have much choice.

  “Under!” he told his friends. “Crawl under!”

  They scrambled between the massive blue legs and flattened themselves in the mud, crawling as close as they could to his loincloth. Percy tried to breathe through his mouth, but it wasn’t the most pleasant hiding spot.

  “What’s the plan?” Frank hissed. “Get flattened by a blue rump?”

  “Lay low,” Percy said. “Only move if you have to. ”

  The gryphons arrived in a wave of angry beaks, talons, and wings, swarming around the giant, trying to get under his legs.

  The giant rumbled in surprise. He shifted. Percy had to roll to avoid getting crushed by his large hairy rear. The Hyperborean grunted, a little more irritated. He swatted at the gryphons, but they squawked in outrage and began pecking at his legs and hands.

  “Ruh?” the giant bellowed. “Ruh!”

  He took a deep breath and blew out a wave of cold air. Even under the protection of the giant’s legs, Percy could feel the temperature drop. The gryphons’ shrieking stopped abruptly, replaced by the thunk, thunk, thunk of heavy objects hitting the mud.

  “Come on,” Percy told his friends. “Carefully. ”

  They squirmed out from under the giant. All around the marsh, trees were glazed with frost. A huge swath of the bog was covered in fresh snow. Frozen gryphons stuck out of the ground like feathery Popsicle sticks, their wings still spread, beaks open, eyes wide with surprise.

  Percy and his friends scrambled away, trying to keep out of the giant’s vision, but the big guy was too busy to notice them. He was trying to figure out how to string a frozen gryphon onto his necklace.

  “Percy…” Hazel wiped the ice and mud from her face. “How did you know the giant could do that?”

  “I almost got hit by Hyperborean breath once,” he said. “We’d better move. The gryphons won’t stay frozen forever. ”

  XL Percy

  THEY WALKED OVERLAND FOR ABOUT an hour, keeping the train tracks in sight but staying in the cover of the trees as much as possible. Once they heard a helicopter flying in the direction of the train wreck. Twice they heard the screech of gryphons, but they sounded a long way off.

  As near as Percy could figure, it was about midnight when the sun finally set. It got cold in the woods. The stars were so thick, Percy was tempted to stop and gawk at them. Then the northern lights cranked up. They reminded Percy of his mom’s gas stovetop back home, when she had the flame on low—waves of ghostly blue flames rippling back and forth.

  “That’s amazing,” Frank said.

  “Bears,” Hazel pointed. Sure enough, a couple of brown bears were lumbering in the meadow a few hundred feet away, their coats gleaming in the starlight. “They won’t bother us,” Hazel promised. “Just give them a wide berth. ”

  Percy and Frank didn’t argue.

  As they trudged on, Percy thought about all the crazy places he’d seen. None of them had left him speechless like Alaska. He could see why it was a land beyond the gods. Everything here was rough and untamed. There were no rules, no prophecies, no destinies—just the harsh wilderness and a bunch of animals and monsters. Mortals and demigods came here at their own risk.

  Percy wondered if this was what Gaea wanted—for the whole world to be like this. He wondered if that would be such a bad thing.

  Then he put the thought aside. Gaea wasn’t a gentle
goddess. Percy had heard what she planned to do. She wasn’t like the Mother Earth you might read about in a children’s fairy tale. She was vengeful and violent. If she ever woke up fully, she’d destroy human civilization.

  After another couple of hours, they stumbled across a tiny village between the railroad tracks and a two-lane road. The city limit sign said: MOOSE PASS. Standing next to the sign was an actual moose. For a second, Percy thought it might be some sort of statue for advertising. Then the animal bounded into the woods.

  They passed a couple of houses, a post office, and some trailers. Everything was dark and closed up. On the other end of town was a store with a picnic table and an old rusted petrol pump in front.

  The store had a hand-painted sign that read: MOOSE PASS GAS.

  “That’s just wrong,” Frank said.

  By silent agreement they collapsed around the picnic table.

  Percy’s feet felt like blocks of ice—very sore blocks of ice. Hazel put her head in her hands and passed out, snoring. Frank took out his last sodas and some granola bars from the train ride and shared them with Percy.

  They ate in silence, watching the stars, until Frank said, “Did you mean what you said earlier?”

  Percy looked across the table. “About what?”

  In the starlight, Frank’s face might have been alabaster, like an old Roman statue. “About…being proud that we’re related. ”

  Percy tapped his granola bar on the table. “Well, let’s see. You single-handedly took out three basilisks while I was sipping green tea and wheat germ. You held off an army of Laistrygonians so that our plane could take off in Vancouver. You saved my life by shooting down that gryphon. And you gave up the last charge on your magic spear to help some defenseless mortals. You are, hands down, the nicest child of the war god I’ve ever met…maybe the only nice one. So what do you think?”

  Frank stared up at the northern lights, still cooking across the stars on low heat. “It’s just…I was supposed to be in charge of this quest, the centurion, and all. I feel like you guys have had to carry me. ”

  “Not true,” Percy said.

  “I’m supposed to have these powers I haven’t figured out how to use,” Frank said bitterly. “Now I don’t have a spear, and I’m almost out of arrows. And…I’m scared. ”

  “I’d be worried if you weren’t scared,” Percy said. “We’re all scared. ”

  “But the Feast of Fortuna is…” Frank thought about it.

  “It’s after midnight, isn’t it? That means it’s June twenty-fourth now. The feast starts tonight at sundown. We have to find our way to Hubbard Glacier, defeat a giant who is undefeatable in his home territory, and get back to Camp Jupiter before they’re overrun—all in less than eighteen hours. ”

  “And when we free Thanatos,” Percy said, “he might claim your life. And Hazel’s. Believe me, I’ve been thinking about it. ”

  Frank gazed at Hazel, still snoring lightly. Her face was buried under a mass of curly brown hair.

 

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