The son of neptune, p.11
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       The Son of Neptune, p.11

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 11

 

  Hazel wasn’t so sure. After eight months, the blackouts seemed to be getting worse, as if her soul were attempting to live in two different time periods at once. No one had ever come back from the dead before—at least, not the way she had. Nico was trying to reassure her, but neither of them knew what would happen.

  “I can’t go north again,” Hazel said. “Nico, if I have to go back to where it happened—”

  “You’ll be fine,” he promised. “You’ll have friends this time. Percy Jackson—he’s got a role to play in this. You can sense that, can’t you? He’s a good person to have at your side. ”

  Hazel remembered what Pluto told her long ago: A descendant of Neptune will wash away your curse and give you peace.

  Was Percy the one? Maybe, but Hazel sensed it wouldn’t be so easy. She wasn’t sure even Percy could survive what was waiting in the north.

  “Where did he come from?” she asked. “Why do the ghosts call him the Greek?”

  Before Nico could respond, horns blew across the river. The legionnaires were gathering for evening muster.

  “We’d better get down there,” Nico said. “I have a feeling tonight’s war games are going to be interesting. ”

  VII Hazel

  ON THE WAY BACK, HAZEL TRIPPED OVER A GOLD BAR.

  She should have known not to run so fast, but she was afraid of being late for muster. The Fifth Cohort had the nicest centurions in camp. Still, even they would have to punish her if she was tardy. Roman punishments were harsh: scrubbing the streets with a toothbrush, cleaning the bull pens at the coliseum, getting sewn inside a sack full of angry weasels and dumped into the Little Tiber—the options were not great.

  The gold bar popped out of the ground just in time for her foot to hit it. Nico tried to catch her, but she took a spill and scraped her hands.

  “You okay?” Nico knelt next to her and reached for the bar of gold.

  “Don’t!” Hazel warned.

  Nico froze. “Right. Sorry. It’s just…jeez. That thing is huge. ” He pulled a flask of nectar from his aviator jacket and poured a little on Hazel’s hands. Immediately the cuts started to heal. “Can you stand?”

  He helped her up. They both stared at the gold. It was the size of a bread loaf, stamped with a serial number and the words u. s. treasury.

  Nico shook his head. “How in Tartarus—?”

  “I don’t know,” Hazel said miserably. “It could’ve been buried there by robbers or dropped off a wagon a hundred years ago. Maybe it migrated from the nearest bank vault. Whatever’s in the ground, anywhere close to me—it just pops up. And the more valuable it is—”

  “The more dangerous it is. ” Nico frowned. “Should we cover it up? If the fauns find it…”

  Hazel imagined a mushroom cloud billowing up from the road, char-broiled fauns tossed in every direction. It was too horrible to consider. “It should sink back underground after I leave, eventually, but just to be sure…”

  She’d been practicing this trick, but never with something so heavy and dense. She pointed at the gold bar and tried to concentrate.

  The gold levitated. She channeled her anger, which wasn’t hard—she hated that gold, she hated her curse, she hated thinking about her past and all the ways she’d failed. Her fingers tingled. The gold bar glowed with heat.

  Nico gulped. “Um, Hazel, are you sure…?”

  She made a fist. The gold bent like putty. Hazel forced it to twist into a giant, lumpy ring. Then she flicked her hand toward the ground. Her million-dollar doughnut slammed into the earth. It sank so deep, nothing was left but a scar of fresh dirt.

  Nico’s eyes widened. “That was…terrifying. ”

  Hazel didn’t think it was so impressive compared to the powers of a guy who could reanimate skeletons and bring people back from the dead, but it felt good to surprise him for a change.

  Inside the camp, horns blew again. The cohorts would be starting roll call, and Hazel had no desire to be sewn into a sack of weasels.

  “Hurry!” she told Nico, and they ran for the gates.

  The first time Hazel had seen the legion assemble, she’d been so intimidated, she’d almost slunk back to the barracks to hide. Even after being at camp for nine months, she still found it an impressive sight.

  The first four cohorts, each forty kids strong, stood in rows in front of their barracks on either side of the Via Praetoria. The Fifth Cohort assembled at the very end, in front of the principia, since their barracks were tucked in the back corner of camp next to the stables and the latrines. Hazel had to run right down the middle of the legion to reach her place.

  The campers were dressed for war. Their polished chain mail and greaves gleamed over purple T-shirts and jeans. Sword-and-skull designs decorated their helmets. Even their leather combat boots looked ferocious with their iron cleats, great for marching through mud or stomping on faces.

  In front of the legionnaires, like a line of giant dominoes, stood their red and gold shields, each the size of a refrigerator door. Every legionnaire carried a harpoonlike spear called a pilum, a gladius, a dagger, and about a hundred pounds of other equipment. If you were out of shape when you came to the legion, you didn’t stay that way for long. Just walking around in your armor was a full-body workout.

  Hazel and Nico jogged down the street as everyone was coming to attention, so their entrance was really obvious. Their footsteps echoed on the stones. Hazel tried to avoid eye contact, but she caught Octavian at the head of the First Cohort smirking at her, looking smug in his plumed centurion’s helmet with a dozen medals pinned on his chest.

  Hazel was still seething from his blackmail threats earlier. Stupid augur and his gift of prophecy—of all the people at camp to discover her secrets, why did it have to be him? She was sure he would have told on her weeks ago, except that he knew her secrets were worth more to him as leverage. She wished she’d kept that bar of gold so she could hit him in the face with it.

  She ran past Reyna, who was cantering back and forth on her pegasus Scipio—nicknamed Skippy because he was the color of peanut butter. The metal dogs Aurum and Argentum trotted at her side. Her purple officer’s cape billowed behind her.

  “Hazel Levesque,” she called, “so glad you could join us. ”

  Hazel knew better than to respond. She was missing most of her equipment, but she hurried to her place in line next to Frank and stood at attention. Their lead centurion, a big seventeen-year-old guy named Dakota, was just calling her name—the last one on the roll.

  “Present!” she squeaked.

  Thank the gods. Technically, she wasn’t late.

  Nico joined Percy Jackson, who was standing off to one side with a couple of guards. Percy’s hair was wet from the baths. He’d put on fresh clothes, but he still looked uncomfortable. Hazel couldn’t blame him. He was about to be introduced to two hundred heavily armed kids.

  The Lares were the last ones to fall in. Their purple forms flickered as they jockeyed for places. They had an annoying habit of standing halfway inside living people, so that the ranks looked like a blurry photograph, but finally the centurions got them sorted out.

  Octavian shouted, “Colors!”

  The standard-bearers stepped forward. They wore lion-skincapes and held poles decorated with each cohort’s emblems. The last to present his standard was Jacob, the legion’s eagle bearer. He held a long pole with absolutely nothing on top. The job was supposed to be a big honor, but Jacob obviously hated it. Even though Reyna insisted on following tradition, every time the eagleless pole was raised, Hazel could feel embarrassment rippling through the legion.

  Reyna brought her pegasus to a halt.

  “Romans!” she announced. “You’ve probably heard about the incursion today. Two gorgons were swept into the river by this newcomer, Percy Jackson. Juno herself guided him here, and proclaimed him a son of Neptune. ”

  The kids in the back rows craned their necks to see Perc
y. He raised his hand and said, “Hi. ”

  “He seeks to join the legion,” Reyna continued. “What do the auguries say?”

  “I have read the entrails!” Octavian announced, as if he’d killed a lion with his bare hands rather than ripping up a stuffed panda pillow. “The auguries are favorable. He is qualified to serve!”

  The campers gave a shout: “Ave!” Hail!

  Frank was a little late with his “ave,” so it came out as a high-pitched echo. The other legionnaires snickered.

  Reyna motioned the senior officers forward—one from each cohort. Octavian, as the most senior centurion, turned to Percy.

  “Recruit,” he asked, “do you have credentials? Letters of reference?”

  Hazel remembered this from her own arrival. A lot of kids brought letters from older demigods in the outside world, adults who were veterans of the camp. Some recruits had rich and famous sponsors. Some were third- or fourth-generation campers. A good letter could get you a position in the better cohorts, sometimes even special jobs like legion messenger, which made you exempt from the grunt work like digging ditches or conjugating Latin verbs.

  Percy shifted. “Letters? Um, no. ”

  Octavian wrinkled his nose.

  Unfair! Hazel wanted to shout. Percy had carried a goddess into camp. What better recommendation could you want?

  But Octavian’s family had been sending kids to camp for over a century. He loved reminding recruits that they were less important than he was.

  “No letters,” Octavian said regretfully. “Will any legionnaires stand for him?”

  “I will!” Frank stepped forward. “He saved my life!”

  Immediately there were shouts of protest from the other cohorts. Reyna raised her hand for quiet and glared at Frank.

  “Frank Zhang,” she said, “for the second time today, I remind you that you are on probatio. Your godly parent has not even claimed you yet. You’re not eligible to stand for another camper until you’ve earned your first stripe. ”

  Frank looked like he might die of embarrassment.

  Hazel couldn’t leave him hanging. She stepped out of line and said, “What Frank means is that Percy saved both our lives. I am a full member of the legion. I will stand for Percy Jackson. ”

  Frank glanced at her gratefully, but the other campers started to mutter. Hazel was barely eligible. She’d only gotten her stripe a few weeks ago, and the “act of valor” that earned it for her had been mostly an accident. Besides, she was a daughter of Pluto, and a member of the disgraced Fifth Cohort. She wasn’t doing Percy much of a favor by giving him her support.

  Reyna wrinkled her nose, but she turned to Octavian. The augur smiled and shrugged, like the idea amused him.

  Why not? Hazel thought. Putting Percy in the Fifth would make him less of a threat, and Octavian liked to keep all his enemies in one place.

  “Very well,” Reyna announced. “Hazel Levesque, you may stand for the recruit. Does your cohort accept him?”

  The other cohorts started coughing, trying not to laugh. Hazel knew what they were thinking: Another loser for the Fifth.

 
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