Read The Son of Neptune Online

Authors: Rick Riordan

Tags: #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Action & Adventure, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Other, #Fiction - Young Adult

The Son of Neptune (26 page)

BOOK: The Son of Neptune
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The queen smiled mischievously, and for the first time, Hazel felt jealous of Reyna. She wished that
she
had a sister like this.

“Good-bye, Hazel Levesque,” the queen said. “If we both die tonight…well, I’m glad I met you.”

T
HE AMAZON JAIL WAS AT THE TOP OF
a storage aisle, sixty feet in the air.

Kinzie led her up three different ladders to a metal catwalk, then tied Hazel’s hands loosely behind her back and pushed her along past crates of jewelry.

A hundred feet ahead, under the harsh glow of fluorescent lights, a row of chain-link cages hung suspended from cables. Percy and Frank were in two of the cages, talking to each other in hushed tones. Next to them on the catwalk, three bored-looking Amazon guards leaned against their spears and gazed at little black tablets in their hands like they were reading.

Hazel thought the tablets looked too thin for books. Then it occurred to her they might be some sort of tiny—what did modern people call them?—laptop computers. SecretAmazon technology, perhaps. Hazel found the idea almost as unsettling as the battle forklifts downstairs.

“Get moving, girl,” Kinzie ordered, loud enough for the guards to hear. She prodded Hazel in the back with her sword.

Hazel walked as slowly as she could, but her mind was racing. She needed to come up with a brilliant rescue plan. So far she had nothing. Kinzie had made sure she could break her bonds easily, but she’d still be empty-handed against three trained warriors, and she had to act before they put her in a cage.

She passed a pallet of crates marked
24-CARAT BLUE TOPAZ RINGS
, then another labeled
SILVER FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS
. An electronic display next to the friendship bracelets read:
People who bought this item also bought GARDEN GNOMESOLAR PATIO LIGHT and FLAMING SPEAR OF DEATH. Buy all three and save 12%!

Hazel froze. Gods of Olympus, she was stupid.

Silver. Topaz. She sent out her senses, searching for precious metals, and her brain almost exploded from the feedback. She was standing next to a six-story-tall mountain of jewelry. But in front of her, from here to the guards, was nothing but prison cages.

“What is it?” Kinzie hissed. “Keep moving! They’ll get suspicious.”

“Make them come here,” Hazel muttered over her shoulder.

“Why—”

“Please.”

The guards frowned in their direction.

“What are you staring at?” Kinzie yelled at them. “Here’s the third prisoner. Come get her.”

The nearest guard set down her reading tablet. “Why can’t you walk another thirty paces, Kinzie?”

“Um, because—”

“Ooof!”
Hazel fell to her knees and tried to put on her best seasick face. “I’m feeling nauseous! Can’t…walk. Amazons ... too ... scary.”

“There you go,” Kinzie told the guards. “Now, are you going to come take the prisoner, or should I tell Queen Hylla you’re not doing your duty?”

The nearest guard rolled her eyes and trudged over. Hazel had hoped the other two guards would come too, but she’d have to worry about that later.

The first guard grabbed Hazel’s arm. “Fine. I’ll take custody of the prisoner. But if I were you, Kinzie, I wouldn’t worry about Hylla. She won’t be queen much longer.”

“We’ll see, Doris.” Kinzie turned to leave. Hazel waited until her steps receded down the catwalk.

The guard Doris pulled on Hazel’s arm. “Well? Come on.”

Hazel concentrated on the wall of jewelry next to her:forty large boxes of silver bracelets. “Not…feeling so good.”

“You are
not
throwing up on me,” Doris growled. She tried to yank Hazel to her feet, but Hazel went limp, like a kid throwing a fit in a store. Next to her, the boxes began to tremble.

“Lulu!” Doris yelled to one of her comrades. “Help me with this lame little girl.”

Amazons named Doris and Lulu? Hazel thought. Okay
...

The second guard jogged over. Hazel figured this was her best chance. Before they could haul her to her feet, she yelled, “Ooooh!” and flattened herself against the catwalk.

Doris started to say, “Oh, give me a—”

The entire pallet of jewelry exploded with a sound like a thousand slot machines hitting the jackpot. A tidal wave of silver friendship bracelets poured across the catwalk, washing Doris and Lulu right over the railing.

They would’ve fallen to their deaths, but Hazel wasn’t
that
mean. She summoned a few hundred bracelets, which leaped at the guards and lashed around their ankles, leaving them hanging upside down from the bottom of the catwalk, screaming like lame little girls.

Hazel turned toward the third guard. She broke her bonds, which were about as sturdy as toilet paper. She picked up one of the fallen guards’ spears. She was terrible with spears, but she hoped the third Amazon didn’t know that.

“Should I kill you from here?” Hazel snarled. “Or are you going to make me come over there?”

The guard turned and ran.

Hazel shouted over the side to Doris and Lulu. “Amazon cards! Pass them up, unless you want me to undo those friendship bracelets and let you drop!”

Four and a half seconds later, Hazel had two Amazon cards. She raced over to the cages and swiped a card. The doors popped open.

Frank stared at her in astonishment. “Hazel, that was…
amazing
.”

Percy nodded. “I will never wear jewelry again.”

“Except this.” Hazel tossed him his necklace. “Our weapons and supplies are at the end of the catwalk. We should hurry. Pretty soon—”

Alarms began wailing throughout the cavern.

“Yeah,” she said, “that’ll happen. Let’s go!”

The first part of the escape was easy. They retrieved their things with no problem, then started climbing down the ladder. Every time Amazons swarmed beneath them, demanding their surrender, Hazel made a crate of jewelry explode, burying their enemies in a Niagara Falls of gold and silver. When they got to the bottom of the ladder, they found a scene that looked like Mardi Gras Armageddon—Amazons trapped up to their necks in bead necklaces, several more upside down in a mountain of amethyst earrings, and a battle forklift buried in silver charm bracelets.

“You, Hazel Levesque,” Frank said, “are entirely
freaking
incredible.”

She wanted to kiss him right there, but they had no time. They ran back to the throne room.

They stumbled across one Amazon who must’ve been loyal to Hylla. As soon as she saw the escapees, she turned away like they were invisible.

Percy started to ask, “What the—”

“Some of them
want
us to escape,” Hazel said. “I’ll explain later.”

The second Amazon they met wasn’t so friendly. She was dressed in full armor, blocking the throne-room entrance. She spun her spear with lightning speed, but this time Percy was ready. He drew Riptide and stepped into battle. As the Amazon jabbed at him, he sidestepped, cut her spear shaft in half, and slammed the hilt of his sword against her helmet.

The guard crumpled.

“Mars Almighty,” Frank said. “How did you—that wasn’t any Roman technique!”

Percy grinned. “The
graecus
has some moves, my friend. After you.”

They ran into the throne room. As promised, Hylla and her guards had cleared out. Hazel dashed over to Arion’s cage and swiped an Amazon card across the lock. Instantly the stallion burst forth, rearing in triumph.

Percy and Frank stumbled backward.

“Um…is that thing
tame
?” Frank said.

The horse whinnied angrily.

“I don’t think so,” Percy guessed. “He just said,
‘I will trample you to death, silly Chinese Canadian baby man.’”

“You speak horse?” Hazel asked.

“‘Baby man’?” Frank spluttered.

“Speaking to horses is a Poseidon thing,” Percy said. “Uh, I mean a Neptune thing.”

“Then you and Arion should get along fine,” Hazel said. “He’s a son of Neptune too.”

Percy turned pale. “Excuse me?”

If they hadn’t been in such a bad situation, Percy’s expression might have made her laugh. “The point is, he’s fast. He can get us out of here.”

Frank did not look thrilled. “Three of us can’t fit on one horse, can we? We’ll fall off, or slow him down, or—”

Arion whinnied again.

“Ouch,” Percy said. “Frank, the horse says you’re a—you know, actually, I’m not going to translate that. Anyway, he says there’s a chariot in the warehouse, and he’s willing to pull it.”

“There!” someone yelled from the back of the throne room. A dozen Amazons charged in, followed by males in orange jumpsuits. When they saw Arion, they backed up quickly and headed for the battle forklifts.

Hazel vaulted onto Arion’s back.

She grinned down at her friends. “I remember seeing that chariot. Follow me, guys!”

She galloped into the larger cavern and scattered a crowd of males. Percy knocked out an Amazon. Frank swept two more off their feet with his spear. Hazel could feel Arion straining to run. He wanted to go full speed, but he needed more room. They had to make it outside.

Hazel bowled into a patrol of Amazons, who scattered in terror at the sight of the horse. For once, Hazel’s
spatha
felt exactly the right length. She swung it at everyone who came within reach. No Amazon dared challenge her.

Percy and Frank ran after her. Finally they reached the chariot. Arion stopped by the yoke, and Percy set to work with the reins and harness.

“You’ve done this before?” Frank asked.

Percy didn’t need to answer. His hands flew. In no time the chariot was ready. He jumped aboard and yelled, “Frank, come on! Hazel, go!”

A battle cry went up behind them. A full army of Amazons stormed into the warehouse. Otrera herself stood astride a battle forklift, her silver hair flowing as she swung her mounted crossbow toward the chariot. “Stop them!” she yelled.

Hazel spurred Arion. They raced across the cavern, weaving around pallets and forklifts. An arrow whizzed past Hazel’s head. Something exploded behind her, but she didn’t look back.

“The stairs!” Frank yelled. “No way this horse can pull a chariot up that many flights of—OH MY GODS!”

Thankfully the stairs were wide enough for the chariot, because Arion didn’t even slow down. He shot up the steps with the chariot rattling and groaning. Hazel glanced back a few times to make sure Frank and Percy hadn’t fallen off. Their knuckles were white on the sides of the chariot, their teeth chattering like windup Halloween skulls.

Finally they reached the lobby. Arion crashed through the main doors into the plaza and scattered a bunch of guys in business suits.

Hazel felt the tension in Arion’s rib cage. The fresh air was making him crazy to run, but Hazel pulled back on his reins.

“Ella!” Hazel shouted at the sky. “Where are you? We have to leave!”

For a horrible second, she was afraid the harpy might be too far away to hear. She might be lost, or captured by the Amazons.

Behind them a battle forklift clattered up the stairs and roared through the lobby, a mob of Amazons behind it.

“Surrender!” Otrera screamed.

The forklift raised its razor-sharp tines.

“Ella!” Hazel cried desperately.

In a flash of red feathers, Ella landed in the chariot. “Ella is here. Amazons are pointy. Go now.”

“Hold on!” Hazel warned. She leaned forward and said, “Arion, run!”

The world seemed to elongate. Sunlight bent around them. Arion shot away from the Amazons and sped through downtown Seattle. Hazel glanced back and saw a line of smoking pavement where Arion’s hooves had touched the ground. He thundered toward the docks, leaping over cars, barreling through intersections.

Hazel screamed at the top of her lungs, but it was a scream of delight. For the first time in her life—in her
two
lives—she felt absolutely unstoppable. Arion reached the water and leaped straight off the docks.

Hazel’s ears popped. She heard a roar that she later realized was a sonic boom, and Arion tore over Puget Sound, seawater turning to steam in his wake as the skyline of Seattle receded behind them.

F
RANK WAS RELIEVED WHEN THE WHEELS FELL OFF
.

He’d already thrown up twice from the back of the chariot, which was not fun at the speed of sound. The horse seemed to bend time and space as he ran, blurring the landscape and making Frank feel like he’d just drunk a gallon of whole milk without his lactose-intolerance medicine. Ella didn’t help matters. She kept muttering: “Seven hundred and fifty miles per hour. Eight hundred. Eight hundred and three. Fast. Very fast.”

The horse sped north across Puget Sound, zooming past islands and fishing boats and very surprised pods of whales. The landscape ahead began to look familiar—Crescent Beach, Boundary Bay. Frank had gone sailing here once on a school trip. They’d crossed into Canada.

The horse rocketed onto dry land. He followed Highway 99 north, running so fast, the cars seemed to be standing still.

Finally, just as they were getting into Vancouver, the chariot wheels began to smoke.

“Hazel!” Frank yelled. “We’re breaking up!”

She got the message and pulled the reins. The horse didn’t seem happy about it, but he slowed to subsonic as they zipped through the city streets. They crossed the Ironworkers bridge into North Vancouver, and the chariot started to rattle dangerously. At last Arion stopped at the top of a wooded hill. He snorted with satisfaction, as if to say,
That’s how we run, fools
. The smoking chariot collapsed, spilling Percy, Frank, and Ella onto the wet, mossy ground.

Frank stumbled to his feet. He tried to blink the yellow spots out of his eyes. Percy groaned and started unhitching Arion from the ruined chariot. Ella fluttered around in dizzy circles, bonking into the trees and muttering, “Tree. Tree. Tree.”

Only Hazel seemed unaffected by the ride. Grinning with pleasure, she slid off the horse’s back. “That was fun!”

“Yeah.” Frank swallowed back his nausea. “So much fun.”

Arion whinnied.

“He says he needs to eat,” Percy translated. “No wonder. He probably burned about six million calories.”

Hazel studied the ground at her feet and frowned. “I’m not sensing any gold around here.…Don’t worry, Arion. I’ll find you some. In the meantime, why don’t you go graze? We’ll meet you—”

The horse zipped off, leaving a trail of steam in his wake.

Hazel knit her eyebrows. “Do you think he’ll come back?”

“I don’t know,” Percy said. “He seems kind of…spirited.”

Frank almost hoped the horse would stay away. He didn’t say that, of course. He could tell Hazel was distressed by the idea of losing her new friend. But Arion scared him, and Frank was pretty sure the horse knew it.

Hazel and Percy started salvaging supplies from the chariot wreckage. There had been a few boxes of random Amazon merchandise in the front, and Ella shrieked with delight when she found a shipment of books. She snatched up a copy of
The Birds of North America,
fluttered to the nearest branch, and began scratching through the pages so fast, Frank wasn’t sure if she was reading or shredding.

Frank leaned against a tree, trying to control his vertigo. He still hadn’t recovered from his Amazon imprisonment—getting kicked across the lobby, disarmed, caged, and insulted as a
baby man
by an egomaniacal horse. That hadn’t exactly helped his self-esteem.

Even before that, the vision he had shared with Hazel had left him rattled. He felt closer to her now. He knew he’d done the right thing in giving her the piece of firewood. A huge weight had been taken off his shoulders.

On the other hand, he’d seen the Underworld firsthand. He had felt what it was like to sit forever doing nothing, just regretting your mistakes. He’d looked up at those creepy goldmasks on the judges of the dead and realized that
he
would stand before them someday, maybe very soon.

Frank had always dreamed of seeing his mother again when he died. But maybe that wasn’t possible for demigods. Hazel had been in Asphodel for something like seventy years and never found her mom. Frank hoped he and his mom would both end up in Elysium. But if Hazel hadn’t gotten there—sacrificing her life to stop Gaea, taking responsibility for her actions so that her mother wouldn’t end up in Punishment—what chance did Frank have? He’d never done anything that heroic.

He straightened and looked around, trying to get his bearings.

To the south, across Vancouver Harbor, the downtown skyline gleamed red in the sunset. To the north, the hills and rain forests of Lynn Canyon Park snaked between the subdivisions of North Vancouver until they gave way to the wilderness.

Frank had explored this park for years. He spotted a bend in the river that looked familiar. He recognized a dead pine tree that had been split by lightning in a nearby clearing. Frank knew this hill.

“I’m practically home,” he said. “My grandmother’s house is right over there.”

Hazel squinted. “How far?”

“Just over the river and through the woods.”

Percy raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? To Grandmother’s house we go?”

Frank cleared his throat. “Yeah, anyway.”

Hazel clasped her hands in prayer. “Frank,
please
tell me she’ll let us spend the night. I know we’re on a deadline, but we’ve got to rest, right? And Arion saved us some time. Maybe we could get an actual cooked meal?”

“And a hot shower?” Percy pleaded. “And a bed with, like, sheets and a pillow?”

Frank tried to imagine Grandmother’s face if he showed up with two heavily armed friends and a harpy. Everything had changed since his mother’s funeral, since the morning the wolves had taken him south. He’d been so angry about leaving. Now, he couldn’t imagine going back.

Still, he and his friends were exhausted. They’d been traveling for more than two days without decent food or sleep. Grandmother could give them supplies. And maybe she could answer some questions that were brewing in the back of Frank’s mind—a growing suspicion about his family gift.

“It’s worth a try,” Frank decided. “To Grandmother’s house we go.”

Frank was so distracted, he would have walked right into the ogres’ camp. Fortunately Percy pulled him back.

They crouched next to Hazel and Ella behind a fallen log and peered into the clearing.

“Bad,” Ella murmured. “This is bad for harpies.”

It was fully dark now. Around a blazing campfire sat half a dozen shaggy-haired humanoids. Standing up, they probably would’ve been eight feet tall—tiny compared to the giant Polybotes or even the Cyclopes they’d seen in California, but that didn’t make them any less scary. They wore only knee-length surfer shorts. Their skin was sunstroke red—covered with tattoos of dragons, hearts, and bikini-clad women. Hanging from a spit over the fire was a skinned animal, maybe a boar, and the ogres were tearing off chunks of meat with their clawlike fingernails, laughing and talking as they ate, baring pointy teeth. Next to the ogres sat several mesh bags filled with bronze spheres like cannonballs. The spheres must have been hot, because they steamed in the cool evening air.

Two hundred yards beyond the clearing, the lights of the Zhang mansion glowed through the trees.
So close,
Frank thought. He wondered if they could sneak around the monsters, but when he looked left and right, he saw more campfires in either direction, as if the ogres had surrounded the property. Frank’s fingers dug into the tree bark. His grandmother might be alone inside the house, trapped.

“What are these guys?” he whispered.

“Canadians,” Percy said.

Frank leaned away from him. “
Excuse
me?”

“Uh, no offense,” Percy said. “That’s what Annabeth called them when I fought them before. She said they live in the north, in Canada.”

“Yeah, well,” Frank grumbled, “we’re
in
Canada.
I’m
Canadian. But I’ve never seen
those
things before.”

Ella plucked a feather from her wings and turned it in her fingers. “Laistrygonians,” she said. “Cannibals. Northern giants. Sasquatch legend. Yep, yep. They’re not birds. Not birds of North America.”

“That’s what they’re called,” Percy agreed. “Laistry—uh, whatever Ella said.”

Frank scowled at the dudes in the clearing. “They
could
be mistaken for Bigfoot. Maybe that’s where the legend came from. Ella, you’re pretty smart.”

“Ella is smart,” she agreed. She shyly offered Frank her feather.

“Oh…thanks.” He stuck the feather in his pocket, then noticed Hazel was glaring at him. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing.” She turned to Percy. “So your memory is coming back? Do you remember how you beat these guys?”

“Sort of,” Percy said. “It’s still fuzzy. I think I had help. We killed them with Celestial bronze, but that was before ... you know.”

“Before Death got kidnapped,” Hazel said. “So now, they might not die at all.”

Percy nodded. “Those bronze cannonballs…those are bad news. I think we used some of them against the giants. They catch fire and blow up.”

Frank’s hand went to his coat pocket. Then he remembered Hazel had his piece of driftwood. “If we cause any explosions,” he said, “the ogres at the other camps will come running. I think they’ve surrounded the house, which means there could be fifty or sixty of these guys in the woods.”

“So it’s a trap.” Hazel looked at Frank with concern. “What about your grandmother? We’ve got to help her.”

Frank felt a lump in his throat. Never in a million years had he thought his grandmother would need rescuing, but now he started running combat scenarios in his mind—the way he had back at camp during the war games.

“We need a distraction,” he decided. “If we can draw this group into the woods, we might sneak through without alerting the others.”

“I wish Arion was here,” Hazel said. “I could get the ogres to chase me.”

Frank slipped his spear off his back. “I’ve got another idea.”

Frank didn’t want to do this. The idea of summoning Gray scared him even more than Hazel’s horse. But he didn’t see another way.

“Frank, you can’t charge out there!” Hazel said. “That’s suicide!”

“I’m not charging,” Frank said. “I’ve got a friend. Just…nobody scream, okay?”

He jabbed the spear into the ground, and the point broke off.

“Oops,” Ella said. “No spear point. Nope, nope.”

The ground trembled. Gray’s skeletal hand broke the surface. Percy fumbled for his sword, and Hazel made a sound like a cat with a hairball. Ella disappeared and rematerialized at the top of the nearest tree.

“It’s okay,” Frank promised. “He’s under control!”

Gray crawled out of the ground. He showed no sign of damage from his previous encounter with the basilisks. He was good as a new in his camouflage and combat boots, translucent gray flesh covering his bones like glowing Jell-O. He turned his ghostly eyes toward Frank, waiting for orders.

“Frank, that’s a
spartus
,” Percy said. “A skeleton warrior. They’re evil. They’re killers. They’re—”

“I know,” Frank said bitterly. “But it’s a gift from Mars. Right now that’s all I’ve got. Okay, Gray. Your orders: attack that group of ogres. Lead them off to the west, causing a diversion so we can—”

Unfortunately, Gray lost interest after the word “ogres.” Maybe he only understood simple sentences. He charged toward the ogres’ campfire.

“Wait!” Frank said, but it was too late. Gray pulled two of his own ribs from his shirt and ran around the fire, stabbing the ogres in the back with such blinding speed they didn’t even have time to yell. Six extremely surprised-looking Laistrygonians fell sideways like a circle of dominoes and crumbled into dust.

Gray stomped around, kicking their ashes apart as they tried to re-form. When he seemed satisfied that they weren’t coming back, Gray stood at attention, saluted smartly in Frank’s direction, and sank into the forest floor.

Percy stared at Frank. “How—”

“No Laistrygonians.” Ella fluttered down and landed next to them. “Six minus six is zero. Spears are good for subtraction. Yep.”

Hazel looked at Frank as if he’d turned into a zombie skeleton himself. Frank thought his heart might shatter, but he couldn’t blame her. Children of Mars were all about violence. Mars’s symbol was a bloody spear for good reason. Why shouldn’t Hazel be appalled?

He glared down at broken tip of his spear. He wished he had
any
father but Mars. “Let’s go,” he said. “My grandmother might be in trouble.”

BOOK: The Son of Neptune
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