The son of neptune, p.14
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       The Son of Neptune, p.14

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 14


  Then Percy Jackson had arrived.

  Sure, Frank had seen kids fight monsters before. He’d fought plenty of them himself on his journey from Vancouver. But he’d never seen gorgons. He’d never seen a goddess in person. And the way Percy had controlled the Little Tiber—wow. Frank wished he had powers like that.

  He could still feel the gorgons’ claws pressing into his arms and smell their snaky breath—like dead mice and poison. If not for Percy, those grotesque hags would have carried him away. He’d be a pile of bones in the back of a Bargain Mart by now.

  After the incident at the river, Reyna had sent Frank to the armory, which had given him way too much time to think.

  While he polished swords, he remembered Juno, warning them to unleash Death.

  Unfortunately Frank had a pretty good idea of what the goddess meant. He had tried to hide his shock when Juno had appeared, but she looked exactly like his grandmother had described—right down to the goatskin cape.

  She chose your path years ago, Grandmother had told him. And it will not be easy.

  Frank glanced at his bow in the corner of the armory. He’d feel better if Apollo would claim him as a son. Frank had been sure his godly parent would speak up on his sixteenth birthday, which had passed two weeks ago.

  Sixteen was an important milestone for Romans. It had been Frank’s first birthday at camp. But nothing had happened. Now Frank hoped he would be claimed on the Feast of Fortuna, though from what Juno had said, they’d be in a battle for their lives on that day.

  His father had to be Apollo. Archery was the only thing Frank was good at. Years ago, his mother had told him that their family name, Zhang, meant “master of bows” in Chinese. That must have been a hint about his dad.

  Frank put down his polishing rags. He looked at the ceiling. “Please, Apollo, if you’re my dad, tell me. I want to be an archer like you. ”

  “No, you don’t,” a voice grumbled.

  Frank jumped out of his seat. Vitellius, the Fifth Cohort’s Lar, was shimmering behind him. His full name was Gaius Vitellius Reticulus, but the other cohorts called him Vitellius the Ridiculous.

  “Hazel Levesque sent me to check on you,” Vitellius said, hiking up his sword belt. “Good thing, too. Look at the state of this armor!”

  Vitellius wasn’t one to talk. His toga was baggy, his tunic barely fit over his belly, and his scabbard fell off his belt every three seconds, but Frank didn’t bother pointing that out.

  “As for archers,” the ghost said, “they’re wimps! Back in my day, archery was a job for barbarians. A good Roman should be in the fray, gutting his enemy with spear and sword like a civilized man! That’s how we did it in the Punic Wars. Roman up, boy!”

  Frank sighed. “I thought you were in Caesar’s army. ”

  “I was!”

  “Vitellius, Caesar was hundreds of years after the Punic Wars. You couldn’t have been alive that long. ”

  “Questioning my honor?” Vitellius looked so mad, his purple aura glowed. He drew his ghostly gladius and yelled, “Take that!”

  He ran the sword, which was about as deadly as a laser pointer, through Frank’s chest a few times.

  “Ouch,” Frank said, just to be nice.

  Vitellius looked satisfied and put his sword away. “Perhaps you’ll think twice about doubting your elders next time! Now…it was your sixteenth birthday recently, wasn’t it?”

  Frank nodded. He wasn’t sure how Vitellius knew this, since Frank hadn’t told anyone except Hazel, but ghosts had ways of finding out secrets. Eavesdropping while invisible was probably one of them.

  “So that’s why you’re such a grumpy gladiator,” the Lar said. “Understandable. The sixteenth birthday is your day of manhood! Your godly parent should have claimed you, no doubt about it, even if with only a small omen. Perhaps he thought you were younger. You look younger, you know, with that pudgy baby face. ”“Thanks for reminding me,” Frank muttered.

  “Yes, I remember my sixteenth,” Vitellius said happily. “Wonderful omen! A chicken in my underpants. ”

  “Excuse me?”

  Vitellius puffed up with pride. “That’s right! I was at the river changing my clothes for my Liberalia. Rite of passage into manhood, you know. We did things properly back then. I’d taken off my childhood toga and was washing up to don the adult one. Suddenly, a pure-white chicken ran out of nowhere, dove into my loincloth, and ran off with it. I wasn’t wearing it at the time. ”

  “That’s good,” Frank said. “And can I just say: Too much information?”

  “Mm. ” Vitellius wasn’t listening. “That was the sign I was descended from Aesculapius, the god of medicine. I took my cognomen, my third name, Reticulus, because it meant undergarment, to remind me of the blessed day when a chicken stole my loincloth. ”

  “So…your name means Mr. Underwear?”

  “Praise the gods! I became a surgeon in the legion, and the rest is history. ” He spread his arms generously. “Don’t give up, boy. Maybe your father is running late. Most omens are not as dramatic as a chicken, of course. I knew a fellow once who got a dung beetle—”

  “Thanks, Vitellius,” Frank said. “But I have to finish polishing this armor—”

  “And the gorgon’s blood?”

  Frank froze. He hadn’t told anyone about that. As far as he knew, only Percy had seen him pocket the vials at the river, and they hadn’t had a chance to talk about it.

  “Come now,” Vitellius chided. “I’m a healer. I know the legends about gorgon’s blood. Show me the vials. ”

  Reluctantly, Frank brought out the two ceramic flask she’d retrieved from the Little Tiber. Spoils of war were often left behind when a monster dissolved—sometimes a tooth, or a weapon, or even the monster’s entire head. Frank had known what the two vials were immediately. By tradition they belonged to Percy, who had killed the gorgons, but Frank couldn’t help thinking, What if I could use them?

  “Yes. ” Vitellius studied the vials approvingly. “Blood takenfrom the right side of a gorgon’s body can cure any disease, even bring the dead back to life. The goddess Minerva once gave a vial of it to my divine ancestor, Aesculapius. But blood taken from the left side of a gorgon—instantly fatal. So, which is which?”

  Frank looked down at the vials. “I don’t know. They’re identical. ”

  “Ha! But you’re hoping the right vial could solve your problem with the burned stick, eh? Maybe break your curse?”

  Frank was so stunned, he couldn’t talk.

  “Oh, don’t worry, boy. ” The ghost chuckled. “I won’t tell anyone. I’m a Lar, a protector of the cohort! I wouldn’t do anything to endanger you. ”

  “You stabbed me through the chest with your sword. ”

  “Trust me, boy! I have sympathy for you, carrying the curse of that Argonaut. ”

  “The . . . what?”

  Vitellius waved away the question. “Don’t be modest. You’ve got ancient roots. Greek as well as Roman. It’s no wonder Juno—” He tilted his head, as if listening to a voice from above. His face went slack. His entire aura flickered green. “But I’ve said enough! At any rate, I’ll let you work out who gets the gorgon’s blood. I suppose that newcomer Percy could use it too, with his memory problem. ”

  Frank wondered what Vitellius had been about to say and what had made him so scared, but he got the feeling that for once Vitellius was going to keep his mouth shut.

  He looked down at the two vials. He hadn’t even thought of Percy’s needing them. He felt guilty that he’d been intending to use the blood for himself. “Yeah. Of course. He should have it. ”

  “Ah, but if you want my advice…” Vitellius looked up nervously again. “You should both wait on that gorgon blood. If my sources are right, you’re going to need it on your quest. ”


  The doors of the armory flew open.

  Reyna stormed in with her metal greyhounds. Vitellius vanis
hed. He might have liked chickens, but he did not like the praetor’s dogs.

  “Frank. ” Reyna looked troubled. “That’s enough with the armor. Go find Hazel. Get Percy Jackson down here. He’s been up there too long. I don’t want Octavian…” She hesitated. “Just get Percy down here. ”

  So Frank had run all the way to Temple Hill.

  Walking back, Percy had asked tons of questions about Hazel’s brother, Nico, but Frank didn’t know that much.

  “He’s okay,” Frank said. “He’s not like Hazel—”

  “How do you mean?” Percy asked.

  “Oh, um…” Frank coughed. He’d meant that Hazel was better looking and nicer, but he decided not to say that. “Nico is kind of mysterious. He makes everybody else nervous, being the son of Pluto, and all. ”

  “But not you?”

  Frank shrugged. “Pluto’s cool. It’s not his fault he runs the Underworld. He just got bad luck when the gods were dividing up the world, you know? Jupiter got the sky, Neptune got the sea, and Pluto got the shaft. ”

  “Death doesn’t scare you?”

  Frank almost wanted to laugh. Not at all! Got a match?

  Instead he said, “Back in the old times, like the Greek times, when Pluto was called Hades, he was more of a death god. When he became Roman, he got more…I don’t know, respectable. He became the god of wealth, too. Everything under the earth belongs to him. So I don’t think of him as being real scary. ”

  Percy scratched his head. “How does a god become Roman? If he’s Greek, wouldn’t he stay Greek?”

  Frank walked a few steps, thinking about that. Vitellius would’ve given Percy an hour-long lecture on the subject, probably with a PowerPoint presentation, but Frank took his best shot. “The way Romans saw it, they adopted the Greek stuff and perfected it. ”

  Percy made a sour face. “Perfected it? Like there was something wrong with it?”

  Frank remembered what Vitellius had said: You’ve got ancient roots. Greek as well as Roman. His grandmother had said something similar.

  “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Rome was more successful than Greece. They made this huge empire. The gods became a bigger deal in Roman times—more powerful and widely known. That’s why they’re still around today. So many civilizations base themselves on Rome. The gods changed to Roman because that’s where the center of power was. Jupiter was…well, more responsible as a Roman god than he had been when he was Zeus. Mars became a lot more important and disciplined. ”

  “And Juno became a hippie bag lady,” Percy noted. “So you’re saying the old Greek gods—they just changed permanently to Roman? There’s nothing left of the Greek?”

  “Uh…” Frank looked around to make sure there were no campers or Lares nearby, but the main gates were still a hundred yards away. “That’s a sensitive topic. Some people say Greek influence is still around, like it’s still a part of the gods’ personalities. I’ve heard stories of demigods occasionally leaving Camp Jupiter. They reject Roman training and try to follow the older Greek style—like being solo heroes instead of working as a team the way the legion does. And back in the ancient days, when Rome fell, the eastern half of the empire survived—the Greek half. ”

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