The son of neptune, p.57
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       The Son of Neptune, p.57

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 57


  Percy shook his head. “Fat chance, Golden Boy. You’re going down. ”

  “Wait. ” Hazel spurred her horse toward the giant. “I raised this monster from the earth. I’m the daughter of Pluto. It’s my place to kill him. ”

  “Ah, little Hazel. ” Alcyoneus planted his staff on the ice. His hair glittered with millions of dollars’ worth of gems. “Are you sure you will not join us of your own free will? You could be quite . . . precious to us. Why die again?” Hazel’s eyes flashed with anger. She looked down at Frank and pulled the wrapped-up piece of firewood from her coat.

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yeah,” he said.

  She pursed her lips. “You’re my best friend, too, Frank. I should have told you that. ” She tossed him the stick. “Do what you have to. And Percy…can you protect him?”

  Percy gazed at the ranks of ghostly Romans. “Against a small army? Sure, no problem. ”

  “Then I’ve got Golden Boy,” Hazel said.

  She charged the giant.

  XLVI Frank

  FRANK UNWRAPPED THE FIREWOOD and knelt at the feet of Th anatos.

  He was aware of Percy standing over him, swinging his sword and yelling in defiance as the ghosts closed in. He heard the giant bellow and Arion whinny angrily, but he didn’t dare look.

  His hands trembling, he held his piece of tinder next to the chains on Death’s right leg. He thought about flames, and instantly the wood blazed.

  Horrible warmth spread through Frank’s body. The icy metal began to melt, the flame so bright it was more blinding than the ice.

  “Good,” Thanatos said. “Very good, Frank Zhang. ”

  Frank had heard about people’s lives flashing before their eyes, but now he experienced it literally. He saw his mother the day she left for Afghanistan. She smiled and hugged him. He tried to breath in her jasmine scent so he’d never forget it.

  I will always be proud of you, Frank, she said. Someday, you’ll travel even farther than I. You’ll bring our family full circle. Years from now, our descendants will be telling stories about the hero Frank Zhang, their great-, great-, great-—She poked him in the belly for old times’ sake. It would be the last time Frank smiled for months.

  He saw himself at the picnic bench in Moose Pass, watching the stars and the northern lights as Hazel snored softly beside him, Percy saying, Frank, you are a leader. We need you.

  He saw Percy disappearing into the muskeg, then Hazel diving after him. Frank remembered how alone he had felt holding on to the bow, how utterly powerless. He had pleaded with the Olympian gods—even Mars—to help his friends, but he knew they were beyond the gods’ reach.

  With a clank, the first chain broke. Quickly, Frank stabbed the firewood at the chain on Death’s other leg.

  He risked a glance over his shoulder.

  Percy was fighting like a whirlwind. In fact…he was a whirlwind. A miniature hurricane of water and ice vapor churned around him as he waded through the enemy, knocking Roman ghosts away, deflecting arrows and spears. Since when did he have that power?

  He moved through the enemy lines, and even though he seemed to be leaving Frank undefended, the enemy was completely focused on Percy. Frank wasn’t sure why—then he saw Percy’s goal. One of the black vapory ghosts was wearing the lion’s-skin cape of a standard bearer and holding a pole with a golden eagle, icicles frozen to its wings. The legion’s standard.

  Frank watched as Percy plowed through a line of legionnaires, scattering their shields with his personal cyclone. He knocked down the standard bearer and grabbed the eagle.

  “You want it back?” he shouted at the ghosts. “Come and get it!”

  He drew them away, and Frank couldn’t help being awed by his bold strategy. As much as those shades wanted to keep Thanatos chained, they were Roman spirits. Their minds were fuzzy at best, like the ghosts Frank had seen in Asphodel, but they remembered one thing clearly: they were supposed to protect their eagle.

  Still, Percy couldn’t fight off that many enemies forever. Maintaining a storm like that had to be difficult. Despite the cold, his face was already beaded with sweat.

  Frank looked for Hazel. He couldn’t see her or the giant.

  “Watch your fire, boy,” Death warned. “You don’t have any to waste. ”

  Frank cursed. He’d gotten so distracted, he hadn’t noticed the second chain had melted.

  He moved his fire to the shackles on the god’s right hand. The piece of tinder was almost half gone now. Frank started to shiver. More images flashed through his mind. He saw Mars sitting at his grandmother’s bedside, looking at Frank with those nuclear explosion eyes: You’re Juno’s secret weapon. Have you figured out your gift yet?

  He heard his mother say: You can be anything.

  Then he saw Grandmother’s stern face, her skin as thin as rice paper, her white hair spread across her pillow. Yes, Fai Zhang. Your mother was not simply boosting your self-esteem. She was telling you the literal truth.

  He thought of the grizzly bear his mother had intercepted at the edge of the woods. He thought of the large black bird circling over the flames of their family mansion.

  The third chain snapped. Frank thrust the tinder at the last shackle. His body was racked with pain. Yellow splotches danced in his eyes.

  He saw Percy at the end of the Via Principalis, holding off the army of ghosts. He’d overturned the chariot and destroyed several buildings, but every time he threw off a wave of attackers in his hurricane, the ghosts simply got up and charged again. Every time Percy slashed one of them down with his sword, the ghost re-formed immediately. Percy had backed up almost as far as he could go. Behind him was the side gate of the camp, and about twenty feet beyond that, the edge of the glacier.

  As for Hazel, she and Alcyoneus had managed to destroy most of the barracks in their battle. Now they were fighting in the wreckage at the main gate. Arion was playing a dangerous game of tag, charging around the giant while Alyconeus swiped at them with his staff, knocking over walls and cleaving massive chasms in the ice. Only Arion’s speed kept them alive.

  Finally, Death’s last chain snapped. With a desperate yelp, Frank jabbed his firewood into a pile of snow and extinguished the flame. His pain faded. He was still alive. But when he took out the piece of tinder, it was no more than a stub, smaller than a candy bar.

  Thanatos raised his arms.

  “Free,” he said with satisfaction.

  “Great. ” Frank blinked the spots from his eyes. “Then do something!”

  Thanatos gave him a calm smile. “Do something? Of course. I will watch. Those who die in this battle will stay dead. ”

  “Thanks,” Frank muttered, slipping his firewood into his coat. “Very helpful. ”

  “You’re most welcome,” Thanatos said agreeably.

  “Percy!” Frank yelled. “They can die now!”

  Percy nodded understanding, but he looked worn out. His hurricane was slowing down. His strikes were getting slower. The entire ghostly army had him surrounded, gradually forcing him toward the edge of the glacier.

  Frank drew his bow to help. Then he dropped it. Normal arrows from a hunting store in Seward wouldn’t do any good. Frank would have to use his gift.

  He thought he understood his powers at last. Something about watching the firewood burn, smelling the acrid smoke of his own life, had made him feel strangely confident.

  Is it fair your life burns so short and bright? Death had asked.

  “No such thing as fair,” Frank told himself. “If I’m going to burn, it might as well be bright. ”

  He took one step toward Percy. Then, from across the camp, Hazel yelled in pain. Arion screamed as the giant got a lucky shot. His staff sent horse and rider tumbling over the ice, crashing into the ramparts.

  “Hazel!” Frank glanced back at Percy, wishing he had his spear. If he could just summon Gray…but he couldn’t be in two places at once.

  “Go help her!” Percy yelled, holding the golden eagle aloft. “I’ve got these guys!”

  Percy didn’t have them. Frank knew that. The son of Poseidon was about to be overwhelmed, but Frank ran to Hazel’s aid.

  She was half-buried in a collapsed pile of snow-bricks. Arion stood over her, trying to protect her, rearing and swatting at the giant with his front hooves.

  The giant laughed. “Hello, little pony. You want to play?”

  Alcyoneus raised his icy staff.

  Frank was too far away to help…but he imagined himself rushing forward, his feet leaving the ground.

  Be anything.

  He remembered the bald eagles they’d seen on the train ride. His body became smaller and lighter. His arms stretched into wings, and his sight became a thousand times sharper. He soared upward, then dove at the giant with his talons extended, his razor-sharp claws raking across the giant’s eyes.

  Alcyoneus bellowed in pain. He staggered backward as Frank landed in front of Hazel and returned to his normal form.

  “Frank…” She stared at him in amazement, a cap of snow dripping off her head. “What just…how did—?”

  “Fool!” Alcyoneus shouted. His face was slashed, black oil dripping into his eyes instead of blood, but the wounds were already closing. “I am immortal in my homeland, Frank Zhang! And thanks to your friend Hazel, my new homeland is Alaska. You cannot kill me here!”

  “We’ll see,” Frank said. Power coursed through his arms and legs. “Hazel, get back on your horse. ”

  The giant charged, and Frank charged to meet him. He remembered the bear he’d met face to face when he was a child. As he ran, his body became heavier, thicker, rippling with muscles. He crashed into the giant as a full-grown grizzly, a thousand pounds of pure force. He was still small compared to Alcyoneus, but he slammed into the giant with such momentum, Alcyoneus toppled into an icy watchtower that collapsed on top of him.

  Frank sprang at the giant’s head. A swipe of his claw was like a heavyweight fighter swinging a chain saw. Frank bashed the giant’s face back and forth until his metallic features began to dent.

  “Urgg,” the giant mumbled in a stupor.

  Frank changed to his regular form. His backpack was still with him. He grabbed the rope he’d bought in Seward, quickly made a noose, and fastened it around the giant’s scaly dragon foot.

  “Hazel, here!” He tossed her the other end of the rope. “I’ve got an idea, but we’ll have to—”

  “Kill—uh—you—uh…” Alcyoneus muttered.

  Frank ran to the giant’s head, picked up the nearest heavy object he could find—a legion shield—and slammed it into the giant’s nose.

  The giant said, “Urgg. ”

  Frank looked back at Hazel. “How far can Arion pull this guy?”

  Hazel just stared at him. “You—you were a bird. Then a bear. And—”

  “I’ll explain later,” Frank said. “We need to drag this guy inland, as fast and far as we can. ”

  “But Percy!” Hazel said.

  Frank cursed. How could he have forgotten?

  Through the ruins of the camp, he saw Percy with his back to the edge of the cliff. His hurricane was gone. He held Riptide in one hand and the legion’s golden eagle in the other. The entire army of shades edged forward, their weapons bristling.

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