“I have to go,” he said. “It’s my job.”
Iris sighed. “I expected as much, but I had to try. The task ahead of you…Well, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially a nice boy like you. If you must go, at least I can offer some advice. You’ll need help finding Thanatos.”“You know where the giants are hiding him?” Frank asked.
Iris gazed thoughtfully at the wind chimes swaying on the ceiling. “No…Alaska is beyond the gods’ sphere of control. The location is shielded from my sight. But there is someone who would know. Seek out the seer Phineas. He’s blind, but he can see the past, present, and future. He knows many things. He can tell you where Thanatos is being held.”
“Phineas…” Frank said. “Wasn’t there a story about him?”
Iris nodded reluctantly. “In the old days, he committed horrible crimes. He used his gift of sight for evil. Jupiter sent the harpies to plague him. The Argonauts—including your ancestor, by the way—”
“The prince of Pylos?”
Iris hesitated. “Yes, Frank. Though his gift, his story…that you must discover on your own. Suffice it to say, the Argonauts drove away the harpies in exchange for Phineas’s help. That was eons ago, but I understand Phineas has returned to the mortal world. You’ll find him in Portland, Oregon, which is on your way north. But you must promise me one thing. If he’s still plagued by harpies, do not kill them, no matter what Phineas promises you. Win his help some other way. The harpies are not evil. They’re my sisters.”
“I know. I don’t look old enough to be the harpies’ sister, but it’s true. And Frank…there’s another problem. If you’re determined to leave, you’ll have to clear those basilisks off the hill.”
“You mean the snakes?”
“Yes,” Iris said. “Basilisk means ‘little crown,’ which is a cute name for something that’s not very cute. I’d prefer not to have them killed. They’re living creatures, after all. But you won’t be able to leave until they’re gone. If your friends try to battle them…well, I foresee see bad things happening. Only you have the ability to kill the monsters.”
She glanced down at the floor. Frank realized that she was looking at his spear.
“I wish there was another way,” she said. “If you had some weasels, for instance. Weasels are deadly to basilisks.”
“Fresh out of weasels,” Frank admitted.
“Then you will have to use your father’s gift. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to live here instead? We make excellent lactose-free rice milk.”
Frank rose. “How do I use the spear?”
“You’ll have to handle that on your own. I can’t advocate violence. While you’re doing battle, I’ll check on your friends. I hope Fleecy found the right medicinal herbs. The last time, we had a mix-up.…Well, I don’t think those heroes wanted to be daisies.”
The goddess stood. Her glasses flashed, and Frank saw his own reflection in the lenses. He looked serious and grim, nothing like the little boy he’d seen in those rainbow images.
“One last bit of advice, Frank,” she said. “You’re destined to die holding that piece of firewood, watching it burn. But perhaps if you didn’t keep it yourself. Perhaps if you trusted someone enough to hold it for you…”
Frank’s fingers curled around the tinder. “Are you offering?”
Iris laughed gently. “Oh, dear, no. I’d lose it in this collection. It would get mixed up with my crystals, or I’d sell it as a driftwood paperweight by accident. No, I meant a demigod friend. Someone close to your heart.”
Hazel, Frank thought immediately. There was no one he trusted more. But how could he confess his secret? If he admitted how weak he was, that his whole life depended on a half-burned stick…Hazel would never see him as a hero. He’d never be her knight in armor. And how could he expect her to take that kind of burden from him?
He wrapped up the tinder and slipped it back into his coat. “Thanks ... thanks, Iris.”
She squeezed his hand. “Don’t lose hope, Frank. Rainbows always stand for hope.”
She made her way toward the back of the store, leaving Frank alone.
“Hope,” Frank grumbled. “I’d rather have a few good weasels.”
He picked up his father’s spear and marched out to face the basilisks.
FRANK MISSED HIS BOW.
He wanted to stand on the porch and shoot the snakes from a distance. A few well-placed exploding arrows, a few craters in the hillside—problem solved.
Unfortunately, a quiver full of arrows wouldn’t do Frank much good if he couldn’t shoot them. Besides, he had no idea where the basilisks were. They’d stopped blowing fire as soon as he came outside.
He stepped off the porch and leveled his golden spear. He didn’t like fighting up close. He was too slow and bulky. He’d done okay during the war games, but this was real. There were no giant eagles ready to snatch him up and take him to the medics if he made a mistake.
You can be anything. His mother’s voice echoed in his mind.
Great, he thought. I want to be good with a spear. And immune to poison—and fire.
Something told Frank his wish had not been granted. The spear felt just as awkward in his hands.
Patches of flame still smoldered on the hillside. The acrid smoke burned in Frank’s nose. The withered grass crunched under his feet.
He thought about those stories his mother used to tell—generations of heroes who had battled Hercules, fought dragons, and sailed monster-infested seas. Frank didn’t understand how he could have evolved from a line like that, or how his family had migrated from Greece through the Roman Empire all the way to China, but some unsettling ideas were starting to form. For the first time, he started to wonder about this Prince of Pylos, and his great-grandfather Shen Lun’s disgrace at Camp Jupiter, and what the family powers might be.
The gift has never kept our family safe, Grandmother had warned.
A reassuring thought as Frank hunted poisonous fire- breathing devil snakes.
The night was quiet except for the crackle of brush fires. Every time a breeze made the grass rustle, Frank thought about the grain spirits who’d captured Hazel. Hopefully they’d gone south with the giant Polybotes. Frank didn’t need any more problems right now.
He crept downhill, his eyes stinging from the smoke. Then, about twenty feet ahead, he saw a burst of flame.
He considered throwing his spear. Stupid idea. Then he’d be without a weapon. Instead he advanced toward the fire.
He wished he had the gorgon’s blood vials, but they were back at the boat. He wondered if gorgon blood could cure basilisk poison.…But even if he had the vials and managed to choose the right one, he doubted he’d have time to take it before he crumbled to dust like his bow.
He emerged in a clearing of burned grass and found himself face-to-face with a basilisk.
The snake rose up on its tail. It hissed, and expanded the collar of white spikes around its neck. Little crown, Frank remembered. That’s what “basilisk” meant. He had thought basilisks were huge dragon like monsters that could petrify you with their eyes. Somehow the real basilisk was even more terrible. As tiny as it was, this extra-small package of fire, poison, and evil would be much harder to kill than a large, bulky lizard. Frank had seen how fast it could move.
The monster fixed its pale yellow eyes on Frank.
Why wasn’t it attacking?
Frank’s golden spear felt cold and heavy. The dragon-tooth point dipped toward the ground all on its own—like a dowsing rod searching for water.
“Stop that.” Frank struggled to the lift the spear. He’d have enough trouble jabbing the monster without his spear fighting against him. Then he heard the grass rustle on either side of him. The other two basilisks slithered into the clearing.
Frank had walked straight into an ambush.
FRANK SWEPT HIS SPEAR BACK AND FORTH. “Stay back!” His voice sounded squeaky. “I’ve got .. . um…amazing powers—and stuff.”
The basilisks hissed in three-part harmony. Maybe they were laughing.
The spear tip was almost too heavy to lift now, as if the jagged white triangle of bone was trying to touch the earth. Then something clicked in the back of Frank’s mind: Mars had said the tip was a dragon’s tooth. Hadn’t there been some story about dragon’s teeth planted in the ground? Something he’d read in monster class at camp…?
The basilisks circled him, taking their time. Maybe they were hesitating because of the spear. Maybe they just couldn’t believe how stupid Frank was.
It seemed like madness, but Frank let the spear tip drop. He drove it into the ground. Crack.
When he lifted it out, the tip was gone—broken off in the dirt.
Wonderful. Now he had a golden stick.
Some crazy part of him wanted to bring out his piece of firewood. If he was going to die anyway, maybe he could set off a massive blaze—incinerate the basilisks, so at least his friends could get away.
Before he could get up the courage, the ground rumbled at his feet. Dirt spewed everywhere, and a skeletal hand clawed the air. The basilisks hissed and backed up.
Frank couldn’t blame them. He watched in horror as a human skeleton crawled out of the ground. It took on flesh as if someone were pouring gelatin over its bones, covering them in glowing, transparent gray skin. Then ghostly clothes enveloped it—a muscle shirt, camo pants, and army boots. Everything about the creature was gray: gray clothes on gray flesh on gray bones.
It turned toward Frank. Its skull grinned beneath an expressionless gray face. Frank whimpered like a puppy. His legs shook so badly he had to support himself with the spear shaft. The skeleton warrior was waiting, Frank realized—waiting for orders.
“Kill the basilisks!” he yelped. “Not me!”
The skeletal warrior leaped into action. He grabbed the nearest snake, and though his gray flesh began to smoke on contact, he strangled the basilisk with one hand and flung down its limp body. The other two basilisks hissed with rage. One sprang at Frank, but he knocked it aside with the butt of his spear.
The other snake belched fire directly in the skeleton’s face. The warrior marched forward and stomped the basilisk’s head under his boot.
Frank turned toward the last basilisk, which was curled at the edge of the clearing studying them. Frank’s Imperial gold spear shaft was steaming, but unlike his bow, it didn’t seem to be crumbling from the basilisk’s touch. The skeleton warrior’s right foot and hand were slowly dissolving from poison. His head was on fire, but otherwise he looked pretty good.
The basilisk did the smart thing. It turned to flee. In a blur of motion, the skeleton pulled something from his shirt and flung it across the clearing, impaling the basilisk in the dirt. Frank thought it was a knife. Then he realized it was one of the skeleton’s own ribs.
Frank was glad his stomach was empty. “That…that was gross.”
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