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.”
“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?
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