The son of neptune, p.9
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       The Son of Neptune, p.9
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         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 9

 

  He was three years older than she was, and he wasn’t exactly Prince Charming, with that strange combination of baby face and bulky wrestler’s body. He looked like a cuddly koala bear with muscles. The fact that everyone always tried to pair them up—the two biggest losers at camp! You guys are perfect for each other—just made Hazel more determined not to like him.

  But her heart wasn’t with the program. It went nuts whenever Frank was around. She hadn’t felt like that since . . . well, since Sammy.

  Stop it, she thought. You’re here for one reason—and it isn’t to get a new boyfriend.

  Besides, Frank didn’t know her secret. If he knew, he wouldn’t be so nice to her.

  He reached the shrine. “Hey, Nico…”

  “Frank. ” Nico smiled. He seemed to find Frank amusing, maybe because Frank was the only one at camp who wasn’t uneasy around the children of Pluto.

  “Reyna sent me to get Percy,” Frank said. “Did Octavian accept you?”

  “Yeah,” Percy said. “He slaughtered my panda. ”

  “He…Oh. The augury? Yeah, teddy bears must have nightmares about that guy. But you’re in! We need to get you cleaned up before evening muster. ”

  Hazel realized the sun was getting low over the hills. How had the day gone so fast? “You’re right,” she said. “We’d better—”

  “Frank,” Nico interrupted, “why don’t you take Percy down? Hazel and I will be along soon. ”

  Uh-oh, Hazel thought. She tried not to look anxious.

  “That’s—that’s a good idea,” she managed. “Go ahead, guys. We’ll catch up. ”

  Percy looked at Nico one more time, as though he was still trying to place a memory. “I’d like to talk with you some more. I can’t shake the feeling—”

  “Sure,” Nico agreed. “Later. I’ll be staying overnight. ”

  “You will?” Hazel blurted. The campers were going to love that—the son of Neptune and the son of Pluto arriving on the same day. Now all they needed was some black cats and broken mirrors.

  “Go on, Percy,” Nico said. “Settle in. ” He turned to Hazel, and she got the sense that the worst part of her day was yet to come. “My sister and I need to talk. ”

  “You know him, don’t you,” Hazel said.

  They sat on the roof of Pluto’s shrine, which was covered with bones and diamonds. As far as Hazel knew, the bones had always been there. The diamonds were her fault. If she sat anywhere too long, or just got anxious, they started popping up all around her like mushrooms after a rain. Several million dollars’ worth of stones glittered on the roof, but fortunately the other campers wouldn’t touch them. They knew better than to steal from temples—especially Pluto’s—and the fauns never came up here.

  Hazel shuddered, remembering her close call with Don that afternoon. If she hadn’t moved quickly and snatched that diamond off the road…She didn’t want to think about it. She didn’t need another death on her conscience.

  Nico swung his feet like a little kid. His Stygian iron sword lay by his side, next to Hazel’s spatha. He gazed across the valley, where construction crews were working in the Field of Mars, building fortifications for tonight’s games.

  “Percy Jackson. ” He said the name like an incantation. “Hazel, I have to be careful what I say. Important things are at work here. Some secrets need to stay secret. You of all people—you should understand that. ”

  Hazel’s cheeks felt hot. “But he’s not like…like me?”

  “No,” Nico said. “I’m sorry I can’t tell you more. I can’t interfere. Percy has to find his own way at this camp. ”

  “Is he dangerous?” she asked.

  Nico managed a dry smile. “Very. To his enemies. But he’s not a threat to Camp Jupiter. You can trust him. ”

  “Like I trust you,” Hazel said bitterly.

  Nico twisted his skull ring. Around him, bones began to quiver as if they were trying to form a new skeleton. Whenever he got moody, Nico had that effect on the dead, kind of like Hazel’s curse. Between them, they represented Pluto’s two spheres of control: death and riches. Sometimes Hazel thought Nico had gotten the better end of the deal.

  “Look, I know this is hard,” Nico said. “But you have a second chance. You can make things right. ”

  “Nothing about this is right,” Hazel said. “If they find out the truth about me—”

  “They won’t,” Nico promised. “They’ll call a quest soon. They have to. You’ll make me proud. Trust me, Bi—”

  He caught himself, but Hazel knew what he’d almost called her: Bianca. Nico’s real sister—the one he’d grown up with. Nico might care about Hazel, but she’d never be Bianca. Hazel was the simply the next best thing Nico could manage—a consolation prize from the Underworld.

  “I’m sorry,” he said.

  Hazel’s mouth tasted like metal, as if gold nuggets were popping up under her tongue. “Then it’s true about Death? Is Alcyoneus to blame?”

  “I think so,” Nico said. “It’s getting bad in the Underworld. Dad’s going crazy trying to keep things under control. From what Percy said about the gorgons, things are getting worse up here, too. But look, that’s why you’re here. All that stuff in your past—you can make something good come out of it.

  You belong at Camp Jupiter. ”

  That sounded so ridiculous, Hazel almost laughed. She didn’t belong in this place. She didn’t even belong in this century.

  She should have known better than to focus on the past, but she remembered the day when her old life had been shattered. The blackout hit her so suddenly, she didn’t even have time to say, Uh-oh. She shifted back in time. Not a dream or a vision. The memory washed over her with such perfect clarity, she felt she was actually there.

  Her most recent birthday. She’d just turned thirteen. But not last December—December 17, 1941, the last day she had lived in New Orleans.

  VI Hazel

  HAZEL WAS WALKING HOME ALONE from the riding stables. Despite the cold evening, she was buzzing with warmth. Sammy had just kissed her on the cheek.

  The day had been full of ups and downs. Kids at school had teased her about her mother, calling her a witch and a lot of other names. That had been going on for a long time, of course, but it was getting worse. Rumors were spreading about Hazel’s curse. The school was called St. Agnes Academy for Colored Children and Indians, a name that hadn’t changed in a hundred years. Just like its name, the place masked a whole lot of cruelty under a thin veneer of kindness.

  Hazel didn’t understand how other black kids could be so mean. They should’ve known better, since they themselves had to put up with name-calling all the time. But they yelled at her and stole her lunch, always asking for those famous jewels: “Where’s those cursed diamonds, girl? Gimme some or I’ll hurt you!” They pushed her away at the water fountain, and threw rocks at her if she tried to approach them on the playground.

  Despite how horrible they were, Hazel never gave them diamonds or gold. She didn’t hate anyone that much. Besides, she had one friend—Sammy—and that was enough.

  Sammy liked to joke that he was the perfect St. Agnes student. He was Mexican American, so he considered himself colored and Indian. “They should give me a double scholarship,” he said.

  He wasn’t big or strong, but he had a crazy smile and he made Hazel laugh.

  That afternoon he’d taken her to the stables where he worked as a groom. It was a “whites only” riding club, of course, but it was closed on weekdays, and with the war on, there was talk that the club might have to shut down completely until the Japanese were whipped and the soldiers came back home. Sammy could usually sneak Hazel in to help take care of the horses. Once in a while they’d go riding.

  Hazel loved horses. They seemed to be the only living things that weren’t scared of her. People hated her. Cats hissed. Dogs growled. Even the stupid hamster in Miss Finley’s classroom squeaked in terror when she gave it a
carrot. But horses didn’t mind. When she was in the saddle, she could ride so fast that there was no chance of gemstones cropping up in her wake. She almost felt free of her curse.

  That afternoon, she’d taken out a tan roan stallion with a gorgeous black mane. She galloped into the fields so swiftly, she left Sammy behind. By the time he caught up, he and his horse were both winded.

  “What are you running from?” He laughed. “I’m not that ugly, am I?”

  It was too cold for a picnic, but they had one anyway, sitting under a magnolia tree with the horses tethered to a split-rail fence. Sammy had brought her a cupcake with a birthday candle, which had gotten smashed on the ride but was still the sweetest thing Hazel had ever seen. They broke it in half and shared it.

  Sammy talked about the war. He wished he were old enough to go. He asked Hazel if she would write him letters if he were a soldier going overseas.

  “’Course, dummy,” she said.

  He grinned. Then, as if moved by a sudden impulse, he lurched forward and kissed her on the cheek. “Happy birthday, Hazel. ”

  It wasn’t much. Just one kiss, and not even on the lips. But Hazel felt like she was floating. She hardly remembered the ride back to the stables, or telling Sammy good-bye. He said, “See you tomorrow,” like he always did. But she would never see him again.

  By the time she got back to the French Quarter, it was getting dark. As she approached home, her warm feeling faded, replaced by dread.

  Hazel and her mother—Queen Marie, she liked to be called—lived in an old apartment above a jazz club. Despite the beginning of the war, there was a festive mood in the air. New recruits would roam the streets, laughing and talking about fighting the Japanese. They’d get tattoos in the parlors or propose to their sweethearts right on the sidewalk. Some would go upstairs to Hazel’s mother to have their fortunes read or to buy charms from Marie Levesque, the famous grisgris queen.

  “Did you hear?” one would say. “Two bits for this good-luck charm. I took it to a guy I know, and he says it’s a real silver nugget. Worth twenty dollars! That voodoo woman is crazy!”

  For a while, that kind of talk brought Queen Marie a lot of business. Hazel’s curse had started out slowly. At first it seemed like a blessing. The precious stones and gold only appeared once in a while, never in huge quantities. QueenMarie paid her bills. They ate steak for dinner once a week. Hazel even got a new dress. But then stories started spreading. The locals began to realize how many horrible things happened to people who bought those good-luck charms or got paid with Queen Marie’s treasure. Charlie Gasceaux lost his arm in a harvester while wearing a gold bracelet. Mr. Henry at the general store dropped dead from a heart attack after Queen Marie settled her tab with a ruby.

  Folks started whispering about Hazel—how she could find cursed jewels just by walking down the street. These days only out-of-towners came to visit her mother, and not so many of them, either. Hazel’s mom had become short-tempered. She gave Hazel resentful looks.

 
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