The son of neptune, p.20
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       The Son of Neptune, p.20

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 20

 

  “What?” Percy called, but the faun disappeared in the fog.

  Then Annabeth was running along beside him, reaching out her hand. “Thank the gods!” she called. “For months and months we couldn’t see you! Are you all right?”

  Percy remembered what Juno had said—for months he has been slumbering, but now he is awake. The goddess had intentionally kept him hidden, but why?

  “Are you real?” he asked Annabeth.

  He wanted so much to believe it he felt like Hannibal the elephant was standing on his chest. But her face began to dissolve. She cried, “Stay put! It’ll be easier for Tyson to find you! Stay where you are!”

  Then she was gone. The images accelerated. He saw a huge ship in a dry dock, workers scrambling to finish the hull, a guy with a blowtorch welding a bronze dragon figurehead to the prow. He saw the war god stalking toward him in the surf, a sword in his hands.

  The scene shifted. Percy stood on the Field of Mars, looking up at the Berkeley Hills. Golden grass rippled, and a face appeared in the landscape—a sleeping woman, her features formed from shadows and folds in the terrain. Her eyes remained closed, but her voice spoke in Percy’s mind:

  So this is the demigod who destroyed my son Kronos. You don’t look like much, Percy Jackson, but you’re valuable to me. Come north. Meet Alcyoneus. Juno can play her little games with Greeks and Romans, but in the end, you will be my pawn. You will be the key to the gods’ defeat.

  Percy’s vision turned dark. He stood in a theater-sized version of the camp’s headquarters—a principia with walls of ice and freezing mist hanging in the air. The floor was littered with skeletons in Roman armor and Imperial gold weapons encrusted with frost. In the back of the room sat an enormous shadowy figure. His skin glinted of gold and silver, as if he were an automaton like Reyna’s dogs. Behind him stood a collection of ruined emblems, tattered banners, and a large golden eagle on a staff of iron.

  The giant’s voice boomed in the vast chamber. “This will be fun, son of Neptune. It’s been eons since I broke a demigod of your caliber. I await you atop the ice. ”

  Percy woke, shivering. For a moment he didn’t know where he was. Then he remembered: Camp Jupiter, the Fifth Cohort barracks. He lay in his bunk, staring at the ceiling and trying to control his racing heartbeat.

  A golden giant was waiting to break him. Wonderful. But what unnerved him more was that sleeping woman’s face in the hills. You will be my pawn. Percy didn’t play chess, but he was pretty sure that being a pawn was bad. They died a lot.

  Even the friendlier parts of his dream were disturbing. A faun named Grover was looking for him. Maybe that’s why Don had detected a—what had he called it?—an empathy link. Somebody named Tyson was searching for him, too, and Annabeth had warned Percy to stay where he was.

  He sat up in his bunk. His roommates were rushing around, getting dressed and brushing their teeth. Dakota was wrapping himself in a long piece of red-speckled cloth—a toga. One of the Lares was giving him pointers on where to tuck and fold.

  “Breakfast time?” Percy asked hopefully.

  Frank’s head popped up from the bunk below. He had bags under his eyes like he hadn’t slept well. “A quick breakfast. Then we’ve got the senate meeting. ”

  Dakota’s head was stuck in his toga. He staggered around like a Kool-Aid-stained ghost.

  “Um,” Percy said, “should I wear my bed sheets?”

  Frank snorted. “That’s just for the senators. There’re ten of them, elected yearly. You’ve got to be at camp five years to qualify. ”

  “So how come we’re invited to the meeting?”

  “Because…you know, the quest. ” Frank sounded worried, like he was afraid Percy would back out. “We have to be in on the discussion. You, me, Hazel. I mean, if you’re willing…”

  Frank probably didn’t mean to guilt him, but Percy’she art felt pulled like taffy. He had sympathy for Frank. Getting claimed by the war god in front of the whole camp—what a nightmare. Plus, how could Percy say no to that big pouty baby face? Frank had been given a huge task that would most likely get him killed. He was scared. He needed Percy’s help.

  And the three of them had made a good team last night. Hazel and Frank were solid, dependable people. They’d accepted Percy like family. Still, he didn’t like the idea of this quest, especially since it came from Mars, and especially after his dreams.

  “I, um…I’d better get ready. …” He climbed out of bed and got dressed. The whole time, he thought about Annabeth. Help was on the way. He could have his old life back. All he had to do was stay put.

  At breakfast, Percy was conscious of everyone looking at him. They were whispering about the previous night:

  “Two gods in one day…”

  “Un-Roman fighting…”

  “Water cannon up my nose…”

  He was too hungry to care. He filled up on pancakes, eggs, bacon, waffles, apples, and several glasses of orange juice. He probably would have eaten more, but Reyna announced that the senate would now convene in the city, and all the folks in togas got up to leave.

  “Here we go. ” Hazel fidgeted with a stone that looked like a two-carat ruby.

  The ghost Vitellius appeared next to them in a purple shimmer. “Bona fortuna, you three! Ah, senate meetings. I remember the one when Caesar was assassinated. Why, the amount of blood on his toga—”

  “Thanks, Vitellius,” Frank interrupted. “We should get going. ”

  Reyna and Octavian led the procession of senators out of camp, with Reyna’s metal greyhounds dashing back and forth along the road. Hazel, Frank, and Percy trailed behind. Percynoticed Nico di Angelo in the group, wearing a black toga and talking with Gwen, who looked a little pale but surprisingly good considering she’d been dead the night before. Nico waved at Percy, then went back to his conversation, leaving Percy more sure than ever that Hazel’s brother was trying to avoid him.

  Dakota stumbled along in his red-speckled robe. A lot of other senators seemed to be having trouble with their togas, too—hiking up their hems, trying to keep the cloth from slipping off their shoulders. Percy was glad he was wearing a regular purple T-shirt and jeans.

  “How could Romans move, in those things?” he wondered.

  “They were just for formal occasions,” Hazel said. “Like tuxedos. I bet the ancient Romans hated togas as much as we do. By the way, you didn’t bring any weapons, did you?”

  Percy’s hand went to his pocket, where his pen always stayed. “Why? Are we not supposed to?”

  “No weapons allowed inside the Pomerian Line,” she said.

  “The what line?”

  “Pomerian,” Frank said. “The city limits. Inside is a sacred ‘safe zone. ’ Legions can’t march through. No weapons allowed. That’s so senate meetings don’t get bloody. ”

  “Like Julius Caesar getting assassinated?” Percy asked.

  Frank nodded. “Don’t worry. Nothing like that has happened in months. ”

  Percy hoped he was kidding.

  As they got closer to the city, Percy could appreciate how beautiful it was. The tiled roofs and gold domes gleamed in the sun. Gardens bloomed with honeysuckle and roses. The central plaza was paved in white and gray stone, decorated with statues, fountains, and gilded columns. In the surrounding neighborhoods, cobblestone streets were lined with freshly painted town houses, shops, cafés, and parks. In the distance rose the coliseum and the horse racing arena.

  Percy didn’t notice they’d reached the city limits until the senators in front of him started slowing down.

  On the side of the road stood a white marble statue—a life-size muscular man with curly hair, no arms, and an irritated expression. Maybe he looked mad because he’d been carved only from the waist up. Below that, he was just a big block of marble.

  “Single file, please!” the statue said. “Have your IDs ready. ”

  Percy looked to his left and right. He hadn’t
noticed before, but a line of identical statues ringed the city at intervals of about a hundred yards.

  The senators passed through easily. The statue checked the tattoos on their forearms and called each senator by name. “Gwendolyn, senator, Fifth Cohort, yes. Nico di Angelo, ambassador of Pluto—very well. Reyna, praetor, of course. Hank, senator, Third Cohort—oh, nice shoes, Hank! Ah, who have we here?”

  Hazel, Frank, and Percy were the last ones.

  “Terminus,” Hazel said, “this is Percy Jackson. Percy, this is Terminus, the god of boundaries. ”

  “New, eh?” said the god. “Yes, probatio tablet. Fine. Ah, weapon in your pocket? Take it out! Take it out!”

  Percy didn’t know how Terminus could tell, but he took out his pen.

  “Quite dangerous,” Terminus said. “Leave it in the tray. Wait, where’s my assistant? Julia!”

  A little girl about six years old peeked out from behind the base of the statue. She had pigtails, a pink dress, and an impish grin with two missing teeth.

  “Julia?” Terminus glanced behind him, and Julia scurried in the other direction. “Where did that girl go?”

  Terminus looked the other way and caught sight of Julia before she could hide. The little girl squealed with delight.

  “Oh, there you are,” said the statue. “Front and center. Bring the tray. ”

  Julia scrambled out and brushed off her dress. She picked up a tray and presented it to Percy. On it were several paring knives, a corkscrew, an oversized container of sun lotion, and a water bottle.

  “You can pick up your weapon on the way out,” Terminus said. “Julia will take good care of it. She’s a trained professional. ”

  The little girl nodded. “Pro-fess-ion-al. ” She said each syllable carefully, like she’d been practicing.

  Percy glanced at Hazel and Frank, who didn’t seem to find anything odd about this. Still, he wasn’t wild about handing over a deadly weapon to a kid.

  “The thing is,” he said, “the pen returns to my pocket automatically, so even if I give it up—”

  “Not to worry,” Terminus assured him. “We’ll make sure it doesn’t wander off. Won’t we, Juila?”

  “Yes, Mr. Terminus. ”

  Reluctantly, Percy put his pen on the tray.

  “Now, a few rules, since you’re new,” Terminus said. “You are entering the boundaries of the city proper. Keep the peace inside the line. Yield to chariot traffic while walking on public roads. When you get to the Senate House, sit on the left-hand side. And, down there—do you see where I’m pointing?”

  “Um,” Percy said, “you don’t have any hands. ”

  Apparently this was a sore point for Terminus. His marble face turned a dark shade of gray. “A smart aleck, eh? Well, Mr. Rule Flouter, right down there in the forum—Julia, point for me, please—”

  Julia dutifully set down the security tray and pointed toward the main plaza.

  “The shop with the blue awning,” Terminus continued, “that’s the general store. They sell tape measures. Buy one! I want those pants exactly one inch above the ankles and that hair regulation cut. And tuck your shirt in. ”

 

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