The house of hades, p.67
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       The House of Hades, p.67
 

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 67

 

  Leo opened his eyes and gasped. “Wh-what…?”

  Annabeth and Percy remained motionless, but Hazel could sense their heartbeats getting stronger, their breath coming more evenly.

  On Hecate’s shoulder, Gale the polecat barked with admiration.

  The goddess stepped forward, her dark eyes glittering in the torchlight. “You’re right, Clytius. Hazel Levesque is not Hercules or Dionysus, but I think you will find her just as formidable. ”

  Through the smoky shroud, Hazel saw the giant open his mouth. No words came out. Clytius sneered in frustration.

  Leo tried to sit up. “What’s going on? What can I—”

  “Watch Percy and Annabeth. ” Hazel drew her spatha. “Stay behind me. Stay in the Mist. ”

  “But—”

  The look Hazel gave him must have been more severe than she realized.

  Leo gulped. “Yeah, got it. White Mist good. Black smoke bad. ”

  Hazel advanced. The giant spread his arms. The domed ceiling shook, and the giant’s voice echoed through the room, magnified a hundred times.

  Formidable? the giant demanded. It sounded as if he were speaking through a chorus of the dead, using all the unfortunate souls who’d been buried behind the dome’s stelae. Because the girl has learned your magic tricks, Hecate? Because you allow these weaklings to hide in your Mist?

  A sword appeared in the giant’s hand—a Stygian iron blade much like Nico’s, except five times the size. I do not understand why Gaea would find any of these demigods worthy of sacrifice. I will crush them like empty nutshells.

  Hazel’s fear turned to rage. She screamed. The walls of the chamber made a crackling sound like ice in warm water, and dozens of gems streaked toward the giant, punching through his armor like buckshot.

  Clytius staggered backward. His disembodied voice bellowed with pain. His iron breastplate was peppered with holes.

  Golden ichor trickled from a wound on his right arm. His shroud of darkness thinned. Hazel could see the murderous expression on his face.

  You, Clytius growled. You worthless—

  “Worthless?” Hecate asked quietly. “I’d say Hazel Levesque knows a few tricks even I could not teach her. ”

  Hazel stood in front of her friends, determined to protect them, but her energy was fading. Her sword was already heavy in her hand, and she hadn’t even swung it yet. She wished Arion were here. She could use the horse’s speed and strength. Unfortunately, her equine friend would not be able to help her this time. He was a creature of the wide-open spaces, not the underground.

  The giant dug his fingers into the wound on his biceps. He pulled out a diamond and flicked it aside. The wound closed.

  So, daughter of Pluto, Clytius rumbled, do you really believe Hecate has your interests at heart? Circe was a favorite of hers. And Medea. And Pasiphaë. How did they end up, eh?

  Behind her, Hazel heard Annabeth stirring, groaning in pain. Percy muttered something that sounded like, “Bob-bob-bob?”

  Clytius stepped forward, holding his sword casually at his side as if they were comrades rather than enemies. Hecate will not tell you the truth. She sends acolytes like you to do her bidding and take all the risk. If by some miracle you incapacitate me, only then will she be able to set me on fire. Then she will claim the glory of the kill. You heard how Bacchus dealt with the Alodai twins in the Colosseum. Hecate is worse. She is a Titan who betrayed the Titans. Then she betrayed the gods. Do you really think she will keep faith with you?

  Hecate’s face was unreadable.

  “I cannot answer his accusations, Hazel,” said the goddess. “This is your crossroads. You must choose. ”

  Yes, crossroads. The giant’s laughter echoed. His wounds seemed to have healed completely. Hecate offers you obscurity, choices, vague promises of magic. I am the anti-Hecate. I will give you truth. I will eliminate choices and magic. I will strip away the Mist, once and for all, and show you the world in all its true horror.

  Leo struggled to his feet, coughing like an asthmatic. “I’m loving this guy,” he wheezed. “Seriously, we should keep him around for inspirational seminars. ” His hands ignited like blowtorches. “Or I could just light him up. ”

  “Leo, no,” Hazel said. “My father’s temple. My call. ”

  “Yeah, okay. But—”

  “Hazel…” Annabeth wheezed.

  Hazel was so elated to hear her friend’s voice that she almost turned, but she knew she shouldn’t take her eyes off Clytius.

  “The chains…” Annabeth managed.

  Hazel inhaled sharply. She’d been a fool! The Doors of Death were still open, shuddering against the chains that held them in place. Hazel had to cut them free so they would disappear—and finally be beyond Gaea’s reach.

  The only problem: a big smoky giant stood in her way.

  You can’t seriously believe you have the strength, Clytius chided. What will you do, Hazel Levesque—pelt me with more rubies? Shower me with sapphires?

  Hazel gave him an answer. She raised her spatha and charged.

  Apparently, Clytius hadn’t expected her to be quite so suicidal. He was slow raising his sword. By the time he slashed, Hazel had ducked between his legs and jabbed her Imperial gold blade into his gluteus maximus. Not very ladylike. The nuns at St. Agnes would never have approved. But it worked.

  Clytius roared and arched his back, waddling away from her. Mist still swirled around Hazel, hissing as it met the giant’s black smoke.

  Hazel realized that Hecate was assisting her—lending her the strength to keep up a defensive shroud. Hazel also knew that the instant her own concentration wavered and that darkness touched her, she would collapse. If that happened, she wasn’t sure Hecate would be able—or willing—to stop the giant from crushing her and her friends.

  Hazel sprinted toward the Doors of Death. Her blade shattered the chains on the left side like they were made of ice. She lunged to the right, but Clytius yelled, NO!

  By sheer luck, she wasn’t cut in half. The flat of the giant’s blade caught her in the chest and sent her flying. She slammed into the wall and felt bones crack.

  Across the room, Leo screamed her name.

  Through her blurry vision, she saw a flash of fire. Hecate stood nearby, her form shimmering as if she were about to dissolve. Her torches seemed to be flickering out, but that might have just been that Hazel was starting to lose consciousness.

  She couldn’t give up now. She forced herself to stand. Her side felt like it was embedded with razor blades. Her sword lay on the ground about five feet away. She staggered toward it.

  “Clytius!” she shouted.

  She meant it to sound like a brave challenge, but it came out as more of a croak.

  At least it got his attention. The giant turned from Leo and the others. When he saw her limping forward, he laughed.

  A good try, Hazel Levesque, Clytius admitted. You did better than I anticipated. But magic alone cannot defeat me, and you do not have sufficient strength. Hecate has failed you, as she fails all of her followers in the end.

  The Mist around her was thinning. At the other end of the room, Leo tried to force-feed Percy some ambrosia, though Percy was still pretty much out of it. Annabeth was awake but struggling, barely able to lift her head.

  Hecate stood with her torches, watching and waiting—which infuriated Hazel so much, she found one last burst of energy.

  She threw her sword—not at the giant, but at the Doors of Death. The chains on the right side shattered. Hazel collapsed in agony, her side burning, as the Doors shuddered and disappeared in a flash of purple light.

  Clytius roared so loudly that a half dozen stelae fell from the ceiling and shattered.

  “That was for my brother, Nico,” Hazel gasped. “And for destroying my father’s altar. ”

  You have forfeited your right to a quick death, the giant snarled. I will suffocate you in darkness, slowly, painfully. Hecate
cannot help you. NO ONE can help you!

  The goddess raised her torches. “I would not be so certain, Clytius. Hazel’s friends simply needed a little time to reach her—time you have given them with your boasting and bragging. ”

  Clytius snorted. What friends? These weaklings? They are no challenge.

  In front of Hazel, the air rippled. The Mist thickened, creating a doorway, and four people stepped through.

  Hazel wept with relief. Frank’s arm was bleeding and bandaged, but he was alive. Next to him stood Nico, Piper, and Jason—all with their swords drawn.

  “Sorry we’re late,” Jason said. “Is this the guy who needs killing?”

  HAZEL ALMOST FELT SORRY FOR CLYTIUS.

  They attacked him from every direction—Leo shooting fire at his legs, Frank and Piper jabbing at his chest, Jason flying into the air and kicking him in the face. Hazel was proud to see how well Piper remembered her sword-fighting lessons.

  Each time the giant’s smoky veil started creeping around one of them, Nico was there, slashing through it, drinking in the darkness with his Stygian blade.

  Percy and Annabeth were on their feet, looking weak and dazed, but their swords were drawn. When did Annabeth get a sword? And what was it made of—ivory? They looked like they wanted to help, but there was no need. The giant was surrounded.

  Clytius snarled, turning back and forth as if he couldn’t decide which of them to kill first. Wait! Hold still! No! Ouch!

  The darkness around him dispelled completely, leaving nothing to protect him except his battered armor. Ichor oozed from a dozen wounds. The damage healed almost as fast as it was inflicted, but Hazel could tell the giant was tiring.

  One last time Jason flew at him, kicking him in the chest, and the giant’s breastplate shattered. Clytius staggered backward. His sword dropped to the floor. He fell to his knees, and the demigods encircled him.

  Only then did Hecate step forward, her torches raised. Mist curled around the giant, hissing and bubbling as it touched his skin.

  “And so it ends,” Hecate said.

  It does not end. Clytius’s voice echoed from somewhere above, muffled and slurred. My brethren have risen. Gaea waits only for the blood of Olympus. It took all of you together to defeat me. What will you do when the Earth Mother opens her eyes?

  Hecate turned her torches upside down. She thrust them like daggers at Clytius’s head. The giant’s hair went up faster than dry tinder, spreading down his head and across his body until the heat of the bonfire made Hazel wince. Clytius fell without a sound, face-first in the rubble of Hades’s altar. His body crumbled to ashes.

  For a moment, no one spoke. Hazel heard a ragged, painful noise and realized it was her own breathing. Her side felt like it had been kicked in with a battering ram.

  The goddess Hecate faced her. “You should go now, Hazel Levesque. Lead your friends out of this place. ”

  Hazel gritted her teeth, trying to hold in her anger. “Just like that? No ‘thank you’? No ‘good work’?”

  The goddess tilted her head. Gale the weasel chittered—maybe a good-bye, maybe a warning—and disappeared in the folds of her mistress’s skirts.

  “You look in the wrong place for gratitude,” Hecate said. “As for ‘good work,’ that remains to be seen. Speed your way to Athens. Clytius was not wrong. The giants have risen—all of them, stronger than ever. Gaea is on the very edge of waking. The Feast of Hope will be poorly named unless you arrive to stop her. ”

 
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