But getting kidnapped by a field of grass? That was new.
She felt as if she were trapped in a funnel cloud of plants. She’d heard of modern-day singers jumping into crowds of fans and getting passed overhead by thousands of hands. She imagined this was similar—only she was moving a thousand times faster, and the grass blades weren’t adoring fans.
She couldn’t sit up. She couldn’t touch the ground. Her sword was still in her bedroll, strapped to her back, but she couldn’t reach it. The plants kept her off balance, tossing her around, slicing her face and arms. She could barely make out the stars through the tumble of green, yellow, and black.
Frank’s shouting faded into the distance.
It was hard to think clearly, but Hazel knew one thing: She was moving fast. Wherever she was being taken, she’d soon be too far away for her friends to find her.
She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the tumbling and tossing. She sent her thoughts into the earth below her. Gold, silver—she’d settle for anything that might disrupt her kidnappers.
She felt nothing. Riches under the earth—zero.
She was about to despair when she felt a huge cold spot pass beneath her. She locked onto it with all her concentration, dropping a mental anchor. Suddenly the ground rumbled. The swirl of plants released her and she was thrown upward like a catapult projectile.
Momentarily weightless, she opened her eyes. She twisted her body in midair. The ground was about twenty feet below her. Then she was falling. Her combat training kicked in. She’d practiced dropping from giant eagles before. She tucked into a roll, turned the impact into a somersault, and came up standing.
She unslung her bedroll and drew her sword. A few yards to her left, an outcropping of rock the size of a garage jutted from the sea of grass. Hazel realized it was her anchor. She’d caused the rock to appear.
The grass rippled around it. Angry voices hissed in dismay at the massive clump of stone that had broken their progress. Before they could regroup, Hazel ran to the rock and clambered to the top.
The grass swayed and rustled around her like the tentacles of a gigantic undersea anemone. Hazel could sense her kidnappers’ frustration.
“Can’t grow on this, can you?” she yelled. “Go away, you bunch of weeds! Leave me alone!”
“Schist,” said an angry voice from the grass.
Hazel raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“Schist! Big pile of schist!”
A nun at St. Agnes Academy had once washed Hazel’s mouth with lye soap for saying something very similar, sos he wasn’t sure how to respond. Then, all around her rock island, the kidnappers materialized from the grass. At first glance they looked like Valentine angels—a dozen chubby little Cupid babies. As they stepped closer, Hazel realized they were neither cute nor angelic.
They were the size of toddlers, with rolls of baby fat, but their skin had a strange greenish hue, as if chlorophyll ran through their veins. They had dry, brittle wings like corn-husks, and tufts of white hair like corn silk. Their faces were haggard, pitted with kernels of grain. Their eyes were solid green, and their teeth were canine fangs.
The largest creature stepped forward. He wore a yellow loincloth, and his hair was spiky, like the bristles on a stalk of wheat. He hissed at Hazel and waddled back and forth so quickly, she was afraid his loincloth might fall off.
“Hate this schist!” the creature complained. “Wheat cannot grow!”
“Sorghum cannot grow!” another piped up.
“Barley!” yelled a third. “Barley cannot grow. Curse this schist!”
Hazel’s knees wobbled. The little creatures might have been funny if they weren’t surrounding her, staring up at her with those pointed teeth and hungry green eyes. They were like Cupid piranhas.
“Y-you mean the rock?” she managed. “This rock is called schist?”
“Yes, greenstone! Schist!” the first creature yelled. “Nasty rock.”
Hazel began to understand how she’d summoned it. “It’s a precious stone. It’s valuable?”
“Bah!” said the one in the yellow loincloth. “Foolish native people made jewelry from it, yes. Valuable? Maybe. Not as good as wheat.”
The others chimed in, calling out different types of grain. They circled the rock, making no effort to climb it—at least not yet. If they decided to swarm her, there was no way she could fend off all of them.
“You’re Gaea’s servants,” she guessed, just to keep them talking. Maybe Percy and Frank weren’t too far away. Maybe they’d be able to see her, standing so tall above the fields. She wished that her sword glowed like Percy’s.
The yellow-diapered Cupid snarled. “We are the karpoi,spirits of the grain. Children of the Earth Mother, yes! We have been her attendants since forever. Before nasty humans cultivated us, we were wild. We will be again. Wheat will destroy all!”
“No, sorghum will rule!”
“Barley shall dominate!”
The others joined in, each karpos cheering for his own variety.
“Right.” Hazel swallowed her revulsion. “So you’re Wheat, then—you in the yellow, um, britches.”
“Hmmmm,” said Wheat. “Come down from your schist, demigod. We must take you to our mistress’s army. They will reward us. They will kill you slowly!”
“Tempting,” Hazel said, “but no thanks.”
“I will give you wheat!” said Wheat, as if this were a very fine offer in exchange for her life. “So much wheat!”
Hazel tried to think. How far had she been carried? How long would it take her friends to find her? The karpoi were getting bolder, approaching the rock in twos and threes, scratching at the schist to see if it would hurt them.
“Before I get down…” She raised her voice, hoping it would carry over the fields. “Um, explain something to me, would you? If you’re grain spirits, shouldn’t you be on the gods’ side? Isn’t the goddess of agriculture Ceres—”
“Evil name!” Barley wailed.
“Cultivates us!” Sorghum spat. “Makes us grow in disgusting rows. Lets humans harvest us. Pah! When Gaea is mistress of the world again, we will grow wild, yes!”
“Well, naturally,” Hazel said. “So this army of hers, where you’re taking me in exchange for wheat—”
“Or barley,” Barley offered.
“Yeah,” Hazel agreed. “This army is where, now?”
“Just over the ridge!” Sorghum clapped his hands excitedly. “The Earth Mother—oh, yes!—she told us: ‘Look for the daughter of Pluto who lives again. Find her! Bring her alive! I have many tortures planned for her.’ The giant Polybotes will reward us for your life! Then we will march south to destroy the Romans. We can’t be killed, you know. But you can, yes.”
“That’s wonderful.” Hazel tried to sound enthusiastic. It wasn’t easy, knowing Gaea had special revenge planned for her. “So you—you can’t be killed because Alcyoneus has captured Death, is that it?”
“Exactly!” Barley said.
“And he’s keeping him chained in Alaska,” Hazel said, “at…let’s see, what’s the name of that place?”
Sorghum started to answer, but Wheat flew at him and knocked him down. The karpoi began to fight, dissolving into funnel clouds of grain. Hazel considered making a run for it. Then Wheat re-formed, holding Sorghum in a headlock. “Stop!” he yelled at the others. “Multigrain fighting is not allowed!”
The karpoi solidified into chubby Cupid piranhas again.
Wheat pushed Sorghum away.
“Oh, clever demigod,” he said. “Trying to trick us into giving secrets. No, you’ll never find the lair of Alcyoneus.”
“I already know where it is,” she said with false confidence. “He’s on the island in Resurrection Bay.”
“Ha!” Wheat sneered. “That place sank beneath the waves long ago. You should know that! Gaea hates you for it. When you thwarted her plans, she was forced to sleep again. Decades and decades! Alcyoneus—not until the dark times was he able to rise.”
“The nineteen-eighties,” Barley agreed. “Horrible! Horrible!”
“Yes,” Wheat said. “And our mistress still sleeps. Alcyoneus was forced to bide his time in the north, waiting, planning. Only now does Gaea begin to stir. Oh, but she remembers you, and so does her son!”
Sorghum cackled with glee. “You will never find the prison of Thanatos. All of Alaska is the giant’s home. He could be keeping Death anywhere! Years it would take you to find him, and your poor camp has only days. Better you surrender. We will give you grain. So much grain.”
Hazel’s sword felt heavy. She’d dreaded returning to Alaska, but at least she’d had an idea where to start looking for Thanatos. She’d assumed that the island where she had died hadn’t been completely destroyed, or possibly had risen again when Alcyoneus woke. She had hoped that his base would be there. But if the island was really gone, she had no idea how to find the giant. Alaska was huge. They could search for decades and never find him.
“Yes,” Wheat said, sensing her anguish. “Give up.”
Hazel gripped her spatha. “Never!” She raised her voice again, hoping it would somehow reach her friends. “If I have to destroy you all, I will. I am the daughter of Pluto!”
The karpoi advanced. They gripped the rock, hissing as if it were scalding hot, but they began to climb.
“Now you will die,” Wheat promised, gnashing his teeth. “You will feel the wrath of grain!”
Suddenly there was a whistling sound. Wheat’s snarl froze. He looked down at the golden arrow that had just pierced his chest. Then he dissolved into pieces of Chex Mix.
FOR A HEARTBEAT, HAZEL WAS just as stunned as the karpoi.Then Frank and Percy burst into the open and began to massacre every source of fiber they could find. Frank shot an arrow through Barley, who crumbled into seeds. Percy slashed Riptide through Sorghum and charged toward Millet and Oats. Hazel jumped down and joined the fight.
Within minutes, the karpoi had been reduced to piles of seeds and various breakfast cereals. Wheat started to re-form, but Percy pulled a lighter from his pack and sparked a flame.
“Try it,” he warned, “and I’ll set this whole field on fire. Stay dead. Stay away from us, or the grass gets it!”
Frank winced like the flame terrified him. Hazel didn’t understand why, but she shouted at the grain piles anyway: “He’ll do it! He’s crazy!”
The remnants of the karpoi scattered in the wind. Frank climbed the rock and watched them go.
Percy extinguished his lighter and grinned at Hazel.
“Thanks for yelling. We wouldn’t have found you otherwise.
How’d you hold them off so long?”
She pointed to the rock. “A big pile of schist.”
“Guys,” Frank called from the top of the rock. “You need to see this.”
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