The son of neptune, p.21
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       The Son of Neptune, p.21
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         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 21

 

  Hazel said, “Thank you, Terminus. We need to get going. ”

  “Fine, fine, you may pass,” the god said testily. “But stay on the right side of the road! And that rock right there—No, Hazel, look where I’m pointing. That rock is entirely too close to that tree. Move it two inches to the left. ”

  Hazel did what she was told, and they continued down the path, Terminus still shouting orders at them while Julia did cartwheels across the grass.

  “Is he always like that?” Percy asked.

  “No,” Hazel admitted. “Today he was laid back. Usually he’s more obsessive/compulsive. ”

  “He inhabits every boundary stone around the city,” Frank said. “Kind of our last line of defense if the city’s attacked. ”

  “Terminus isn’t so bad,” Hazel added. “Just don’t make him angry, or he’ll force you to measure every blade of grass in the valley. ”

  Percy filed that information. “And the kid? Julia?”

  Hazel grinned. “Yeah, she’s a cutie. Her parents live in the city. Come on. We’d better catch up to the senators. ”

  As they approached the forum, Percy was struck by the sheer number of people. College-age kids were hanging out at the fountain. Several of them waved at the senators as they passed. One guy in his late twenties stood at a bakery counter, flirting with a young woman who was buying coffee. An older couple was watching a little boy in diapers and a miniature Camp Jupiter shirt toddle after seagulls. Merchants were opening their shops for the day, putting out signs in

  Latin that advertised pottery, jewelry, and half-price tickets for the Hippodrome.

  “All these people are demigods?” Percy asked.

  “Or descended from demigods,” Hazel said. “Like I told you, it’s a good place to go to college or raise a family without worrying about monster attacks every day. Maybe two, three hundred people live here? The veterans act as, like, advisers and reserve forces as needed, but mostly they’re just citizens living their lives. ”

  Percy imagined what that would be like: getting an apartment in this tiny replica of Rome, protected by the legion and Terminus the OCD border god. He imagined holding hands with Annabeth at a café. Maybe when they were older, watching their own kid chase seagulls across the forum…

  He shook the idea out of his head. He couldn’t afford to indulge in that kind of thinking. Most of his memories were gone, but he knew this place wasn’t his home. He belonged somewhere else, with his other friends.

  Besides, Camp Jupiter was in danger. If Juno was right, an attack was coming in less than five days. Percy imagined that sleeping woman’s face—the face of Gaea—forming in the hills above camp. He imagined hordes of monsters descending into this valley.

  If you don’t succeed, Mars had warned, there won’t be any camp left to return to. Rome will be overrun, its legacy lost forever.

  He thought about the little girl Julia, the families with kids, his new friends in the Fifth Cohort, even those silly fauns. He didn’t want to picture what might happen to them if this place was destroyed.

  The senators made their way to a big white-domed building on the west end of the forum. Percy paused at the doorway, trying not to think about Julius Caesar getting slashed to death at a senate meeting. Then he took a deep breath and followed Hazel and Frank inside.

  XIV Percy

  THE SENATE HOUSE INTERIOR looked like a high school lecture hall. A semicircle of tiered seats faced a dais with a podium and two chairs. The chairs were empty, but one had a small velvet package on the seat.

  Percy, Hazel, and Frank sat on the left side of the semicircle. The ten senators and Nico di Angelo occupied the rest of the front row. The upper rows were filled with several dozeng hosts and a few older veterans from the city, all in formal togas. Octavian stood in front with a knife and a Beanie Babylion, just in case anyone needed to consult the god of cutesy collectibles. Reyna walked to the podium and raised her hand for attention.

  “Right, this is an emergency meeting,” she said. “We won’t stand on formalities. ”

  “I love formalities!” a ghost complained.

  Reyna shot him a cross look.

  “First of all,” she said, “we’re not here to vote on the quest itself. The quest has been issued by Mars Ultor, patron of Rome. We will obey his wishes. Nor are we here to debate the choice of Frank Zhang’s companions. ”

  “All three from the Fifth Cohort?” called out Hank from the Third. “That’s not fair. ”

  “And not smart,” said the boy next to him. “We know the Fifth will mess up. They should take somebody good. ”

  Dakota got up so fast, he spilled Kool-Aid from his flask. “We were plenty good last night when we whipped yourpodex, Larry!”

  “Enough, Dakota,” Reyna said. “Let’s leave Larry’s podexout of this. As quest leader, Frank has the right to choose his companions. He has chosen Percy Jackson and HazelLevesque. ”

  A ghost from the second row yelled, “Absurdus! Frank Zhang isn’t even a full member of the legion! He’s on probatio. A quest must be led by someone of centurion rank or higher. This is completely—”

  “Cato,” Reyna snapped. “We must obey the wishes of MarsUltor. That means certain . . . adjustments. ”

  Reyna clapped her hands, and Octavian came forward. He set down his knife and Beanie Baby and took the velvet package from the chair.

  “Frank Zhang,” he said, “come forward. ”

  Frank glanced nervously at Percy. Then he got to his feet and approached the augur.

  “It is my…pleasure,” Octavian said, forcing out the last word, “to bestow upon you the Mural Crown for being first over the walls in siege warfare. ” Octavian handed him a bronze badge shaped like a laurel wreath. “Also, by order of Praetor Reyna, to promote you to the rank of centurion. ”

  He handed Frank another badge, a bronze crescent, and the senate exploded in protest.

  “He’s still a probie!” one yelled.

  “Impossible!” said another.

  “Water cannon up my nose!” yelled a third.

  “Silence!” Octavian’s voice sounded a lot more commanding than it had the previous night on the battlefield. “Ourpraetor recognizes that no one below the rank of centurion may lead a quest. For good or ill, Frank must lead this quest—so our praetor has decreed that Frank Zhang must be made centurion. ”

  Suddenly Percy understood what an effective speaker Octavian was. He sounded reasonable and supportive, but his expression was pained. He carefully crafted his words to put all the responsibility on Reyna. This was her idea, he seemed to say.

  If it went wrong, Reyna was to blame. If only Octavian had been the one in charge, things would have been done more sensibly. But alas, he had no choice but to support Reyna, because Octavian was a loyal Roman soldier.

  Octavian managed to convey all that without saying it, simultaneously calming the senate and sympathizing with them. For the first time, Percy realized this scrawny, funny-looking scarecrow of a kid might be a dangerous enemy.

  Reyna must have recognized this too. A look of irritation flashed across her face. “There is an opening for centurion,” she said. “One of our officers, also a senator, has decided to step down. After ten years in the legion, she will retire to the city and attend college. Gwen of the Fifth Cohort, we thank you for your service. ”

  Everyone turned to Gwen, who managed a brave smile. She looked tired from the previous night’s ordeal, but also relieved. Percy couldn’t blame her. Compared to getting skewered with a pilum, college sounded pretty good.

  “As praetor,” Reyna continued, “I have the right to replace officers. I admit it’s unusual for a camper on probatio to rise directly to the rank of centurion, but I think we can agree…last night was unusual. Frank Zhang, your ID, please. ”

  Frank removed the lead tablet from around his neck and handed it to Octavian.

  “Your arm,” Octavian said.

&nbs
p; Frank held up his forearm. Octavian raised his hands to the heavens. “We accept Frank Zhang, Son of Mars, to the Twelfth Legion Fulminata for his first year of service. Do you pledge your life to the senate and people of Rome?”

  Frank muttered something like “Ud-dud. ” Then he cleared his throat and managed: “I do. ”

  The senators shouted, “Senatus Populusque Romanus!”

  Fire blazed on Frank’s arm. For a moment his eyes filled with terror, and Percy was afraid his friend might pass out. Then the smoke and flame died, and new marks were seared onto Frank’s skin: SPQR, an image of crossed spears, and a single stripe, representing the first year of service.

  “You may sit down. ” Octavian glanced at the audience as if to say: This wasn’t my idea, folks. “Now,” Reyna said, “we must discuss the quest. ”

  The senators shifted and muttered as Frank returned to his seat.

  “Did it hurt?” Percy whispered.

  Frank looked at his forearm, which was still steaming. “Yeah. A lot. ” He seemed mystified by the badges in his hand—the centurion’s mark and the Mural Crown—like he wasn’t sure what to do with them.

  “Here. ” Hazel’s eyes shone with pride. “Let me. ”

  She pinned the medals to Frank’s shirt.

  Percy smiled. He’d only known Frank for a day, but he felt proud of him too. “You deserve it, man,” he said. “What you did last night? Natural leadership. ”

  Frank scowled. “But centurion—”

  “Centurion Zhang,” called Octavian. “Did you hear the question?”

  Frank blinked. “Um…sorry. What?”

  Octavian turned to the senate and smirked, like What did I tell you?

  “I was asking,” Octavian said like he was talking to a three-year-old, “if you have a plan for the quest. Do you even know where you are going?”

  “Um. . . ”

  Hazel put her hand on Frank’s shoulder and stood. “Weren’t you listening last night, Octavian? Mars was pretty clear. We’re going to the land beyond the gods—Alaska. ”

  The senators squirmed in their togas. Some of the ghosts shimmered and disappeared. Even Reyna’s metal dogs rolled over on their backs and whimpered.

  Finally Senator Larry stood. “I know what Mars said, but that’s crazy. Alaska is cursed! They call it the land beyond the gods for a reason. It’s so far north, the Roman gods have no power there. The place is swarming with monsters. No demigod has come back from there alive since—”

  “Since you lost your eagle,” Percy said.

  Larry was so startled, he fell back on his podex.

  “Look,” Percy continued, “I know I’m new here. I know you guys don’t like to mention that massacre in the nineteen-eighties—”

  “He mentioned it!” one of the ghosts whimpered.

  “—But don’t you get it?” Percy continued. “The Fifth Cohort led that expedition. We failed, and we have to be responsible for making things right. That’s why Mars is sending us. This giant, the son of Gaea—he’s the one who defeated your forces thirty years ago. I’m sure of it. Now he’s sitting up there in Alaska with a chained death god, and all your old equipment. He’s mustering his armies and sending them south to attack this camp. ”

 
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