- The Lost Hero
Hedge took another bite of paper and burger. “Well, Kronos built a new palace there last summer. Big nasty place, was going to be the headquarters for his new kingdom and all. Weren’t any battles there, though. Kronos marched on Manhattan, tried to take Olympus. If I remember right, he left some other Titans in charge of his palace, but after Kronos got defeated in Manhattan, the whole palace just crumbled on its own.”
“No,” Jason said.
Everyone looked at him.
“What do you mean, ‘No’?” Leo asked.
“That’s not what happened. I—” He tensed, looking toward the cave entrance. “Did you hear that?”
For a second, nothing. Then Piper heard it: howls piercing the night.
“WOLVES,” PIPER SAID. “THEY SOUND CLOSE.”
Jason rose and summoned his sword. Leo and Coach Hedge got to their feet too. Piper tried, but black spots danced before her eyes.
“Stay there,” Jason told her. “We’ll protect you.”
She gritted her teeth. She hated feeling helpless. She didn’t want anyone to protect her. First the stupid ankle. Now stupid hypothermia. She wanted to be on her feet, with her dagger in her hand.
Then, just outside the firelight at the entrance of the cave, she saw a pair of red eyes glowing in dark.
Okay, she thought. Maybe a little protection is fine.
More wolves edged into the firelight—black beasts bigger than Great Danes, with ice and snow caked on their fur. Their fangs gleamed, and their glowing red eyes looked disturbingly intelligent. The wolf in front was almost as tall as a horse, his mouth stained as if he’d just made a fresh kill.
Piper pulled her dagger out of its sheath.
Then Jason stepped forward and said something in Latin.
Piper didn’t think a dead language would have much effect on wild animals, but the alpha wolf curled his lip. The fur stood up along his spine. One of his lieutenants tried to advance, but the alpha wolf snapped at his ear. Then all of the wolves backed into the dark.
“Dude, I gotta study Latin.” Leo’s hammer shook in his hand. “What’d you say, Jason?”
Hedge cursed. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. Look.”
The wolves were coming back, but the alpha wolf wasn’t with them. They didn’t attack. They waited—at least a dozen now, in a rough semicircle just outside the firelight, blocking the cave exit.
The coach hefted his club. “Here’s the plan. I’ll kill them all, and you guys escape.”
“Coach, they’ll rip you apart,” Piper said.
“Nah, I’m good.”
Then Piper saw the silhouette of a man coming through the storm, wading through the wolf pack.
“Stick together,” Jason said. “They respect a pack. And Hedge, no crazy stuff. We’re not leaving you or anyone else behind.”
Piper got a lump in her throat. She was the weak link in their “pack” right now. No doubt the wolves could smell her fear. She might as well be wearing a sign that said free lunch.
The wolves parted, and the man stepped into the firelight. His hair was greasy and ragged, the color of fireplace soot, topped with a crown of what looked like finger bones. His robes were tattered fur—wolf, rabbit, raccoon, deer, and several others Piper couldn’t identify. The furs didn’t look cured, and from the smell, they weren’t very fresh. His frame was lithe and muscular, like a distance runner’s. But the most horrible thing was his face. His thin pale skin was pulled tight over his skull. His teeth were sharpened like fangs. His eyes glowed bright red like his wolves’—and they fixed on Jason with absolute hatred.
“Ecce,” he said, “filli Romani.”
“Speak English, wolf man!” Hedge bellowed.
The wolf man snarled. “Tell your faun to mind his tongue, son of Rome. Or he’ll be my first snack.”
Piper remembered that faun was the Roman name for satyr.Not exactly helpful information. Now, if she could remember who this wolf guy was in Greek mythology, and how to defeat him, that she could use.
The wolf man studied their little group. His nostrils twitched. “So it’s true,” he mused. “A child of Aphrodite. A son of Hephaestus. A faun. And a child of Rome, of Lord Jupiter, no less. All together, without killing each other. How interesting.”
“You were told about us?” Jason asked. “By whom?”
The man snarled—perhaps a laugh, perhaps a challenge. “Oh, we’ve been patrolling for you all across the west, demigod, hoping we’d be the first to find you. The giant king will reward me well when he rises. I am Lycaon, king of the wolves. And my pack is hungry.”
The wolves snarled in the darkness.
Out of the corner of her eye, Piper saw Leo put up his hammer and slip something else from his tool belt—a glass bottle full of clear liquid.
Piper racked her brain trying to place the wolf guy’s name. She knew she’d heard it before, but she couldn’t remember details.
Lycaon glared at Jason’s sword. He moved to each side as if looking for an opening, but Jason’s blade moved with him.
“Leave,” Jason ordered. “There’s no food for you here.”
“Unless you want tofu burgers,” Leo offered.
Lycaon bared his fangs. Apparently he wasn’t a tofu fan.
“If I had my way,” Lycaon said with regret, “I’d kill you first, son of Jupiter. Your father made me what I am. I was the powerful mortal king of Arcadia, with fifty fine sons, and Zeus slew them all with his lightning bolts.”
“Ha,” Coach Hedge said. “For good reason!”
Jason glanced over his shoulder. “Coach, you know this clown?”
“I do,” Piper answered. The details of the myth came back to her—a short, horrible story she and her father had laughed at over breakfast. She wasn’t laughing now.
“Lycaon invited Zeus to dinner,” she said. “But the king wasn’t sure it was really Zeus. So to test his powers, Lycaon tried to feed him human flesh. Zeus got outraged—”
“And killed my sons!” Lycaon howled. The wolves behind him howled too.
“So Zeus turned him into a wolf,” Piper said. “They call… they call werewolves lycanthropes, named after him, the first werewolf.”
“The king of wolves,” Coach Hedge finished. “An immortal, smelly, vicious mutt.”
Lycaon growled. “I will tear you apart, faun!”
“Oh, you want some goat, buddy? ’Cause I’ll give you goat.”
“Stop it,” Jason said. “Lycaon, you said you wanted to kill me first, but...?”
“Sadly, Child of Rome, you are spoken for. Since this one”—he waggled his claws at Piper—“has failed to kill you, you are to be delivered alive to the Wolf House. One of my compatriots has asked for the honor of killing you herself.”
“Who?” Jason said.
The wolf king snickered. “Oh, a great admirer of yours. Apparently, you made quite an impression on her. She will take care of you soon enough, and really I cannot complain. Spilling your blood at the Wolf House should mark my new territory quite well. Lupa will think twice about challenging my pack.”
Piper’s heart tried to jump out of her chest. She didn’t understand everything Lycaon had said, but a woman who wanted to kill Jason? Medea, she thought. Somehow, she must’ve survived the explosion.
Piper struggled to her feet. Spots danced before her eyes again. The cave seemed to spin.
“You’re going to leave now,” Piper said, “before we destroy you.”
She tried to put power into the words, but she was too weak. Shivering in her blankets, pale and sweaty and barely able to hold a knife, she couldn’t have looked very threatening.
Lycaon’s red eyes crinkled with humor. “A brave try, girl.
I admire that. Perhaps I’ll make your end quick. Only the son of Jupiter is needed alive. The rest of you, I’m afraid, are dinner.”
At that moment, Piper knew she was going to die. But at least she’d die on her feet, fighting next to Jason.
Jason took a step forward. “You’re not killing anyone, wolf man. Not without going through me.”
Lycaon howled and extended his claws. Jason slashed at him, but his golden sword passed straight through as if the wolf king wasn’t there.
Lycaon laughed. “Gold, bronze, steel—none of these are any good against my wolves, son of Jupiter.”
“Silver!” Piper cried. “Aren’t werewolves hurt by silver?”
“We don’t have any silver!” Jason said.
Wolves leaped into the firelight. Hedge charged forward with an elated “Woot!”
But Leo struck first. He threw his glass bottle and it shattered on the ground, splattering liquid all over the wolves—the unmistakable smell of gasoline. He shot a burst of fire at the puddle, and a wall of flames erupted.
Wolves yelped and retreated. Several caught fire and had to run back into the snow. Even Lycaon looked uneasily at the barrier of flames now separating his wolves from the demigods.
“Aw, c’mon,” Coach Hedge complained. “I can’t hit them if they’re way over there.”
Every time a wolf came closer, Leo shot a new wave of fire from his hands, but each effort seemed to make him a little more tired, and the gasoline was already dying down. “I can’t summon any more gas!” Leo warned. Then his face turned red. “Wow, that came out wrong. I mean the burningkind. Gonna take the tool belt a while to recharge. What you got, man?”
“Nothing,” Jason said. “Not even a weapon that works.”
“Lightning?” Piper asked.
Jason concentrated, but nothing happened. “I think the snowstorm is interfering, or something.”
“Unleash the venti!” Piper said.
“Then we’ll have nothing to give Aeolus,” Jason said. “We’ll have come all this way for nothing.”
Lycaon laughed. “I can smell your fear. A few more minutes of life, heroes. Pray to whatever gods you wish. Zeus did not grant me mercy, and you will have none from me.”
The flames began to sputter out. Jason cursed and dropped his sword. He crouched like he was ready to go hand-to-hand. Leo pulled his hammer out of his pack. Piper raised her dagger—not much, but it was all she had. Coach Hedge hefted his club, and he was the only one who looked excited about dying.
Then a ripping sound cut through the wind—like a piece of tearing cardboard. A long stick sprouted from the neck of the nearest wolf—the shaft of a silver arrow. The wolf writhed and fell, melting into a puddle of shadow.
More arrows. More wolves fell. The pack broke in confusion. An arrow flashed toward Lycaon, but the wolf king caught it in midair. Then he yelled in pain. When he dropped the arrow, it left a charred, smoking gash across his palm. Another arrow caught him in the shoulder, and the wolf king staggered.
“Curse them!” Lycaon yelled. He growled at his pack, and the wolves turned and ran. Lycaon fixed Jason with those glowing red eyes. “This isn’t over, boy.”