The house of hades, p.69
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       The House of Hades, p.69

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
 
Page 69

 

  Percy’s smile melted. Bob and Damasen had sacrificed their lives so that Percy and Annabeth could sit here now, enjoying the sunlight and laughing with their friends.

  It wasn’t fair.

  Leo pulled a tiny screwdriver from his tool belt. He stabbed a chocolate-covered strawberry and passed it to Coach Hedge. Then he pulled out another screwdriver and speared a second strawberry for himself.

  “So, the twenty-million-peso question,” Leo said. “We got this slightly used forty-foot-tall statue of Athena. What do we do with it?”

  Reyna squinted at the Athena Parthenos. “As fine as it looks on this hill, I didn’t come all this way to admire it. According to Annabeth, it must be returned to Camp Half-Blood by a Roman leader. Do I understand correctly?”

  Annabeth nodded. “I had a dream down in…you know, Tartarus. I was on Half-Blood Hill, and Athena’s voice said, I must stand here. The Roman must bring me. ”

  Percy studied the statue uneasily. He’d never had the best relationship with Annabeth’s mom. He kept expecting Big Mama Statue to come alive and chew him out for getting her daughter into so much trouble—or maybe just step on him without a word.

  “It makes sense,” Nico said.

  Percy flinched. It almost sounded like Nico had read his mind and was agreeing that Athena should step on him.

  The son of Hades sat at the other end of the circle, eating nothing but half a pomegranate, the fruit of the Underworld. Percy wondered if that was Nico’s idea of a joke.

  “The statue is a powerful symbol,” Nico said. “A Roman returning it to the Greeks…that could heal the historic rift, maybe even heal the gods of their split personalities. ”

  Coach Hedge swallowed his strawberry along with half the screwdriver. “Now, hold on. I like peace as much as the next satyr—”

  “You hate peace,” Leo said.

  “The point is, Valdez, we’re only—what, a few days from Athens? We got an army of giants waiting for us there. We went to all the trouble of saving this statue—”

  “I went to most of the trouble,” Annabeth reminded him.

  “—because that prophecy called it the giants’ bane,” the coach continued. “So why aren’t we taking it to Athens with us? It’s obviously our secret weapon. ” He eyed the Athena Parthenos. “It looks like a ballistic missile to me. Maybe if Valdez strapped some engines to it—”

  Piper cleared her throat. “Uh, great idea, Coach, but a lot of us have had dreams and visions of Gaea rising at Camp Half-Blood…”

  She unsheathed her dagger Katoptris and set it on her plate. At the moment, the blade showed nothing except sky, but looking at it still made Percy uncomfortable.

  “Since we got back to the ship,” Piper said, “I’ve been seeing some bad stuff in the knife. The Roman legion is almost within striking distance of Camp Half-Blood. They’re gathering reinforcements: spirits, eagles, wolves. ”

  “Octavian,” Reyna growled. “I told him to wait. ”

  “When we take over command,” Frank suggested, “our first order of business should be to load Octavian into the nearest catapult and fire him as far away as possible. ”

  “Agreed,” Reyna said. “But for now—”

  “He’s intent on war,” Annabeth put in. “He’ll have it, unless we stop him. ”

  Piper turned the blade of her knife. “Unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it. I saw images of a possible future—the camp in flames, Roman and Greek demigods lying dead. And Gaea…” Her voice failed her.

  Percy remembered the god Tartarus in physical form, looming over him. He’d never felt such helplessness and terror. He still burned with shame, remembering how his sword had slipped out of his hand.

  You might as well try to kill the earth, Tartarus had said.

  If Gaea was that powerful, and she had an army of giants at her side, Percy didn’t see how seven demigods could stop her, especially when most of the gods were incapacitated. They had to stop the giants before Gaea woke, or it was game over.

  If the Athena Parthenos was a secret weapon, taking it to Athens was pretty tempting. Heck, Percy kind of liked the coach’s idea of using it as a missile and sending Gaea up in a godly nuclear mushroom cloud.

  Unfortunately, his gut told him that Annabeth was right. The statue belonged back on Long Island, where it might be able to stop the war between the two camps.

  “So Reyna takes the statue,” Percy said. “And we continue on to Athens. ”

  Leo shrugged. “Cool with me. But, uh, a few pesky logistical problems. We got what—two weeks until that Roman feast day when Gaea is supposed to rise?”

  “The Feast of Spes,” Jason said. “That’s on the first of August. Today is—”

  “July eighteenth,” Frank offered. “So, yeah, from tomorrow, exactly fourteen days. ”

  Hazel winced. “It took us eighteen days to get from Rome to here—a trip that should’ve only taken two or three days, max. ”

  “So, given our usual luck,” Leo said, “maybe we have enough time to get the Argo II to Athens, find the giants, and stop them from waking Gaea. Maybe. But how is Reyna supposed to get this massive statue back to Camp Half-Blood before the Greeks and Romans put each other through the blender? She doesn’t even have her pegasus anymore. Uh, sorry—”

  “Fine,” Reyna snapped. She might be treating them like allies rather than enemies, but Percy could tell Reyna still had a not-so-soft spot for Leo, probably because he’d blown up half the Forum in New Rome.

  She took a deep breath. “Unfortunately, Leo is correct. I don’t see how I can transport something so large. I was assuming—well, I was hoping you all would have an answer. ”

  “The Labyrinth,” Hazel said. “I—I mean, if Pasiphaë really has reopened it, and I think she has…” She looked at Percy apprehensively. “Well, you said the Labyrinth could take you anywhere. So maybe—”

  “No. ” Percy and Annabeth spoke in unison.

  “Not to shoot you down, Hazel,” Percy said. “It’s just…”

  He struggled to find the right words. How could he describe the Labyrinth to someone who’d never explored it? Daedalus had created it to be a living, growing maze. Over the centuries it had spread like the roots of a tree under the entire surface of the world. Sure, it could take you anywhere. Distance inside was meaningless. You could enter the maze in New York, walk ten feet, and exit the maze in Los Angeles—but only if you found a reliable way to navigate. Otherwise the Labyrinth would trick you and try to kill you at every turn. When the tunnel network collapsed after Daedalus died, Percy had been relieved. The idea that the maze was regenerating itself, honeycombing its way under the earth again and providing a spacious new home for monsters…that didn’t make him happy. He had enough problems already.

  “For one thing,” he said, “the passages in the Labyrinth are way too small for the Athena Parthenos. There’s no chance you could take it down there—”

  “And even if the maze is reopening,” Annabeth continued, “we don’t know what it might be like now. It was dangerous enough before, under Daedalus’s control, and he wasn’t evil. If Pasiphaë has remade the Labyrinth the way she wanted…” She shook her head. “Hazel, maybe your underground senses could guide Reyna through, but no one else would stand a chance. And we need you here. Besides, if you got lost down there—”

  “You’re right,” Hazel said glumly. “Never mind. ”

  Reyna cast her eyes around the group. “Other ideas?”

  “I could go,” Frank offered, not sounding very happy about it. “If I’m a praetor, I should go. Maybe we could rig some sort of sled, or—”

  “No, Frank Zhang. ” Reyna gave him a weary smile. “I hope we will work side by side in the future, but for now your place is with the crew of this ship. You are one of the seven of the prophecy. ”

  “I’m not,” Nico said.

  Everybody stopped eating. Percy stared across the circle at Nico, trying
to decide if he was joking.

  Hazel set down her fork. “Nico—”

  “I’ll go with Reyna,” he said. “I can transport the statue with shadow-travel. ”

  “Uh…” Percy raised his hand. “I mean, I know you just got all eight of us to the surface, and that was awesome. But a year ago you said transporting just yourself was dangerous and unpredictable. A couple of times you ended up in China. Transporting a forty-foot statue and two people halfway across the world—”

  “I’ve changed since I came back from Tartarus. ” Nico’s eyes glittered with anger—more intensely than Percy understood. He wondered if he’d done something to offend the guy.

  “Nico,” Jason intervened, “we’re not questioning your power. We just want to make sure you don’t kill yourself trying. ”

  “I can do it,” he insisted. “I’ll make short jumps—a few hundred miles each time. It’s true, after each jump I won’t be in any shape to fend off monsters. I’ll need Reyna to defend me and the statue. ”

  Reyna had an excellent poker face. She studied the group, scanning their faces, but betraying none of her own thoughts. “Any objections?”

  No one spoke.

  “Very well,” she said, with the finality of a judge. If she had a gavel, Percy suspected she would have banged it. “I see no better option. But there will be many monster attacks. I would feel better taking a third person. That’s the optimal number for a quest. ”

  “Coach Hedge,” Frank blurted.

  Percy stared at him, not sure he’d heard correctly. “Uh, what, Frank?”

  “The coach is the best choice,” Frank said. “The only choice. He’s a good fighter. He’s a certified protector. He’ll get the job done. ”

  “A faun,” Reyna said.

  “Satyr!” barked the coach. “And, yeah, I’ll go. Besides, when you get to Camp Half-Blood, you’ll need somebody with connections and diplomatic skills to keep the Greeks from attacking you. Just let me go make a call—er, I mean, get my baseball bat. ”

  He got up and shot Frank an unspoken message that Percy couldn’t quite read. Despite the fact that he’d just been volunteered for a likely suicide mission, the coach looked grateful. He jogged off toward the ship’s ladder, tapping his hooves together like an excited kid.

  Nico rose. “I should go, too, and rest before the first passage. We’ll meet at the statue at sunset. ”

  Once he was gone, Hazel frowned. “He’s acting strangely. I’m not sure he’s thinking this through. ”

  “He’ll be okay,” Jason said.

  “I hope you’re right. ” She passed her hand over the ground. Diamonds broke the surface—a glittering milky way of stones. “We’re at another crossroads. The Athena Parthenos goes west. The Argo II goes east. I hope we chose correctly. ”

 
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