The house of hades, p.58
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       The House of Hades, p.58
 

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 58

 

  The coach plopped down on his berth. His cupped his chin in his hand and stared glumly around his cabin. The place looked like a college dorm room after a hurricane—the floor strewn with laundry (maybe for wearing, maybe for snacks; it was hard to tell with satyrs), DVDs and dirty dishes scattered around the TV on the dresser. Every time the ship tilted, a mismatched herd of sports equipment rolled across the floor—footballs, basketballs, baseballs, and for some reason, a single billiard ball. Tufts of goat hair floated through the air and collected under the furniture in clumps. Dust goats? Goat bunnies?

  On the coach’s nightstand sat a bowl of water, a stack of golden drachmas, a flashlight, and a glass prism for making rainbows. The coach had obviously come prepared to make a lot of Iris-messages.

  Frank remembered what Piper had told him about the coach’s cloud nymph girlfriend who worked for Piper’s dad. What was the girlfriend’s name… Melinda? Millicent? No, Mellie.

  “Uh, is your girlfriend Mellie all right?” Frank ventured.

  “None of your business!” the coach snapped.

  “Okay. ”

  Hedge rolled his eyes. “Fine! If you must know—yes, I was talking to Mellie. But she’s not my girlfriend anymore. ”

  “Oh…” Frank’s heart sank. “You broke up?”

  “No, you dolt! We got married! She’s my wife!”

  Frank would’ve been less stunned if the coach had smacked him. “Coach, that’s—that’s great! When—how—?”

  “None of your business!” he yelled again.

  “Um…all right. ”

  “End of May,” the coach said. “Just before the Argo II sailed. We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. ”

  Frank felt like the ship was tilting again, but it must have been just him. The herd of wild sports equipment stayed put against the far wall.

  All this time the coach had been married? In spite of being a newlywed, he’d agreed to come on this quest. No wonder Hedge made so many calls back home. No wonder he was so cranky and belligerent.

  Still… Frank sensed there was more going on. The coach’s tone during the Iris-message made it sound like they were discussing a problem.

  “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” Frank said. “But…is she okay?”

  “It was a private conversation!”

  “Yeah. You’re right. ”

  “Fine! I’ll tell you. ” Hedge plucked some fur off his thigh and let it float through the air. “She took a break from her job in L. A. , went to Camp Half-Blood for the summer, because we figured—” His voice cracked. “We figured it would be safer. Now she’s stuck there, with the Romans about to attack. She’s…she’s pretty scared. ”

  Frank became very aware of the centurion badge on his shirt, the SPQR tattoo on his forearm.

  “Sorry,” he murmured. “But if she’s a cloud spirit, couldn’t she just…you know, float away?”

  The coach curled his fingers around the grip of his baseball bat. “Normally, yeah. But see…she’s in a delicate condition. It wouldn’t be safe. ”

  “A delicate…” Frank’s eyes widened. “She’s going to have a baby? You’re going to be a dad?”

  “Shout it a little louder,” Hedge grumbled. “I don’t think they heard you in Croatia. ”

  Frank couldn’t help grinning. “But, Coach, that’s awesome! A little baby satyr? Or maybe a nymph? You’ll be a fantastic dad. ”

  Frank wasn’t sure why he felt that way, considering the coach’s love of baseball bats and roundhouse kicks, but he was sure.

  Coach Hedge scowled even deeper. “The war’s coming, Zhang. Nowhere is safe. I should be there for Mellie. If I gotta die somewhere—”

  “Hey, nobody’s going to die,” Frank said.

  Hedge met his eyes. Frank could tell the coach didn’t believe it.

  “Always had a soft spot for children of Ares,” Hedge muttered. “Or Mars—whichever. Maybe that’s why I’m not pulverizing you for asking so many questions. ”

  “But I wasn’t—”

  “Fine, I’ll tell you!” Hedge sighed again. “Back when I was on my first assignment as a seeker, I was way out in Arizona. Brought in this kid named Clarisse. ”

  “Clarisse?”

  “Sibling of yours,” Hedge said. “Ares kid. Violent. Rude. Lots of potential. Anyway, while I was out, I had this dream about my mom. She—she was a cloud nymph like Mellie. I dreamed she was in trouble and needed my help right away. But I said to myself, Nah, it’s just a dream. Who would hurt a sweet old cloud nymph? Besides, I gotta get this half-blood to safety. So I finished my mission, brought Clarisse to Camp Half-Blood. Afterward, I went looking for my mom. I was too late. ”

  Frank watched the tuft of goat hair settle on top of a basketball. “What happened to her?”

  Hedge shrugged. “No idea. Never saw her again. Maybe if I’d been there for her, if I’d got back sooner…”

  Frank wanted to say something comforting, but he wasn’t sure what. He had lost his mom in the war in Afghanistan, and he knew how empty the words I’m sorry could sound.

  “You were doing your job,” Frank offered. “You saved a demigod’s life. ”

  Hedge grunted. “Now my wife and my unborn kid are in danger, halfway across the world, and I can’t do anything to help. ”

  “You are doing something,” Frank said. “We’re over here to stop the giants from waking Gaea. That’s the best way we can keep our friends safe. ”

  “Yeah. Yeah, I suppose. ”

  Frank wished he could do more to lift Hedge’s spirits, but this talk was making him worry about everyone he’d left behind. He wondered who was defending Camp Jupiter now that the legion had marched east, especially with all the monsters Gaea was unleashing from the Doors of Death. He worried about his friends in the Fifth Cohort, and how they must be feeling as Octavian ordered them to march on Camp Half-Blood. Frank wanted to be back there, if only to stuff a teddy bear down the throat of that slimeball augur.

  The ship listed forward. The herd of sports equipment rolled under the coach’s berth.

  “We’re descending,” said Hedge. “We’d better get above. ”

  “Yeah,” Frank said, his voice hoarse.

  “You’re a nosy Roman, Zhang. ”

  “But—”

  “Come on,” Hedge said. “And not a word about this to the others, you blabbermouth. ”

  As the others made fast the aerial moorings, Leo grabbed Frank and Hazel by the arms. He dragged them to the aft ballista. “Okay, here’s the plan. ”

  Hazel narrowed her eyes. “I hate your plans. ”

  “I need that piece of magic firewood,” Leo said. “Snappy!”

  Frank nearly choked on his own tongue. Hazel backed away, instinctively covering her coat pocket. “Leo, you can’t—”

  “I found a solution. ” Leo turned to Frank. “It’s your call, big guy, but I can protect you. ”

  Frank thought about how many times he’d seen Leo’s fingers burst into flame. One false move, and Leo could incinerate the piece of tinder that controlled Frank’s life.

  But for some reason, Frank wasn’t terrified. Since facing down the cow monsters in Venice, Frank had barely thought about his fragile lifeline. Yes, the smallest bit of fire might kill him. But he’d also survived some impossible things and made his dad proud. Frank had decided that whatever his fate was, he wouldn’t worry about it. He would just do the best he could to help his friends.

  Besides, Leo sounded serious. His eyes were still full of that weird melancholy, like he was in two places at once; but nothing about his expression indicated any kind of joke.

  “Go ahead, Hazel,” Frank said.

  “But…” Hazel took a deep breath. “Okay. ” She took out the piece of firewood and handed it to Leo.

  In Leo’s hands, it wasn’t much bigger than a screwdriver. The tinder was still charred on one side from where Frank had used it to burn through the icy chains that
had imprisoned the god Thanatos in Alaska.

  From a pocket of his tool belt, Leo produced a piece of white cloth. “Behold!”

  Frank scowled. “A handkerchief?”

  “A surrender flag?” Hazel guessed.

  “No, unbelievers!” Leo said. “This is a pouch woven from seriously cool fabric—a gift from a friend of mine. ”

  Leo slipped the firewood into the pouch and pulled it closed with a tie of bronze thread.

  “The drawstring was my idea,” Leo said proudly. “It took some work, lacing that into the fabric, but the pouch won’t open unless you want it to. The fabric breathes just like regular cloth, so the firewood isn’t any more sealed up than it would be in Hazel’s coat pocket. ”

  “Uh…” Hazel said. “How is that an improvement, then?”

  “Hold this so I don’t give you a heart attack. ” Leo tossed the pouch to Frank, who almost fumbled it.

  Leo summoned a white-hot ball of fire into his right hand. He held his left forearm over the flames, grinning as they licked the sleeve of his jacket.

  “See?” he said. “It doesn’t burn!”

  Frank didn’t like to argue with a guy who was holding a ball of fire, but he said, “Uh…you’re immune to flames. ”

  Leo rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but I have to concentrate if I don’t want my clothes to burn. And I’m not concentrating, see? This is totally fireproof cloth. Which means your firewood won’t burn in that pouch. ”

  Hazel looked unconvinced. “How can you be sure?”

  “Sheesh, tough audience. ” Leo shut off the fire. “Guess there’s only one way to persuade you. ” He held out his hand to Frank.

  “Uh, no, no. ” Frank backed off. Suddenly all those brave thoughts about accepting his fate seemed far away. “That’s okay, Leo. Thanks, but I—I can’t—”

  “Man, you gotta trust me. ”

  Frank’s heart raced. Did he trust Leo? Well, sure…with an engine. With a practical joke. But with his life?

  He remembered the day they had gotten stuck in the underground workshop in Rome. Gaea had promised they would die in that room. Leo had promised he would get Hazel and Frank out of the trap. And he’d done it.

  Now Leo spoke with the same kind of confidence.

  “Okay. ” Frank handed Leo the pouch. “Try not to kill me. ”

  Leo’s hand blazed. The pouch didn’t blacken or burn.

  Frank waited for something to go horribly wrong. He counted to twenty, but he was still alive. He felt as if a block of ice were melting just behind his sternum—a frozen chunk of fear he’d gotten so used to he didn’t even think about it until it was gone.

  Leo extinguished his fire. He wriggled his eyebrows at Frank. “Who’s your best buddy?”

  “Don’t answer that,” Hazel said. “But, Leo, that was amazing. ”

 
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