The son of neptune, p.23
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       The Son of Neptune, p.23

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 23

 

  “Traditional!” Octavian exclaimed. “It is very traditional. Let us see if these questers have the strength to survive without help, like true Romans!”

  More muttering filled the chamber. The senators’ eyes moved back and forth between Octavian and Reyna, watching the test of wills.

  Reyna straightened in her chair. “Very well,” she said tightly. “We’ll put it to a vote. Senators, the motion is as follows: The quest shall go to Alaska. The senate shall provide full access to the Roman navy docked at Alameda. No other aid will be forthcoming. The three adventurers will survive or fail on their own merits. All in favor?”

  Every senator’s hand went up.

  “The motion is passed. ” Reyna turned to Frank. “Centurion, your party is excused. The senate has other matters to discuss. And, Octavian, if I may confer with you for a moment. ”

  Percy was incredibly glad to see the sunlight. In that dark hall, with all those eyes on him, he’d felt like the world was riding on his shoulders—and he was fairly sure he’d had that experience before.

  He filled his lungs with fresh air.

  Hazel picked up a large emerald from the path and slipped it in her pocket. “So…we’re pretty much toast?”

  Frank nodded miserably. “If either of you wants to back out, I wouldn’t blame you. ”

  “Are you kidding?” Hazel said. “And pull sentry duty for the rest of the week?”

  Frank managed a smile. He turned to Percy.

  Percy gazed across the forum. Stay put, Annabeth had said in his dream. But if he stayed put, this camp would be destroyed. He looked up at the hills, and imagined Gaea’s face smiling in the shadows and ridges. You can’t win, little demigod, she seemed to say. Serve me by staying, or serve me by going.

  Percy made a silent vow: After the Feast of Fortuna, he would find Annabeth. But for now, he had to act. He couldn’t let Gaea win.

  “I’m with you,” he told Frank. “Besides, I want to check out the Roman navy. ”

  They were only halfway across the forum when some called, “Jackson!” Percy turned and saw Octavian jogging toward them.

  “What do you want?” Percy asked.

  Octavian smiled. “Already decided I’m your enemy? That’s a rash choice, Percy. I’m a loyal Roman. ”

  Frank snarled. “You backstabbing, slimy—” Both Percy and Hazel had to restrain him.

  “Oh, dear,” Octavian said. “Hardly the right behavior for a new centurion. Jackson, I only followed you because Reyna charged me with a message. She wants you to report to the principia without your—ah—two lackeys, here. Reyna will meet you there after the senate adjourns. She’d like a private word with you before you leave on your quest. ”

  “What about?” Percy said.

  “I’m sure I don’t know. ” Octavian smiled wickedly. “The last person she had a private talk with was Jason Grace. And that was the last time I ever saw him. Good luck and good bye, Percy Jackson. ”

  XV Percy

  PERCY WAS GLAD RIPTIDE HAD RETURNED to his pocket. Judging from Reyna’s expression, he thought he might need to defend himself.

  She stormed into the principia with her purple cloak billowing, and her greyhounds at her feet. Percy was sitting in one of the praetor chairs that he’d pulled to the visitor’s side, which maybe wasn’t the proper thing to do. He started to get up.

  “Stay seated,” Reyna growled. “You leave after lunch. We have a lot to discuss. ”

  She plunked down her dagger so hard, the jelly-bean bowl rattled. Aurum and Argentum took their posts on her left and right and fixed their ruby eyes on Percy.

  “What’d I do wrong?” Percy asked. “If it’s about the chair—”

  “It’s not you. ” Reyna scowled. “I hate senate meetings. When Octavian gets talking…”

  Percy nodded. “You’re a warrior. Octavian is a talker. Put him in front of the senate, and suddenly he becomes the powerful one. ”

  She narrowed her eyes. “You’re smarter than you look. ”

  “Gee, thanks. I hear Octavian might get elected praetor, assuming the camp survives that long. ”

  “Which brings us to the subject of doomsday,” Reyna said, “and how you might help prevent it. But before I place the fate of Camp Jupiter in your hands, we need to get a few things straight. ”

  She sat down and put a ring on the table—a band of silver etched with a sword-and-torch design, like Reyna’s tattoo.

  “Do you know what this is?”

  “The sign of your mom,” Percy said. “The…uh, war goddess. ” He tried to remember the name but he didn’t want to get it wrong—something like bologna. Or salami?

  “Bellona, yes. ” Reyna scrutinized him carefully. “You don’t remember where you saw this ring before? You really don’t remember me or my sister, Hylla?”

  Percy shook his head. “I’m sorry. ”

  “It would’ve been four years ago. ”

  “Just before you came to camp. ”

  Reyna frowned. “How did you—?”

  “You’ve got four stripes on your tattoo. Four years. ”

  Reyna looked at her forearm. “Of course. It seems so long ago. I suppose you wouldn’t recall me even if you had your memory. I was just a little girl—one attendant among so many at the spa. But you spoke with my sister, just before you and that other one, Annabeth, destroyed our home. ”

  Percy tried to remember. He really did. For some reason, Annabeth and he had visited a spa and decided to destroy it. He couldn’t imagine why. Maybe they hadn’t liked the deep-tissue massage? Maybe they’d gotten bad manicures?

  “It’s a blank,” he said. “Since your dogs aren’t attacking me, I hope you’ll believe me. I’m telling the truth. ”

  Aurum and Argentum snarled. Percy got the feeling they were thinking, Please lie. Please lie.

  Reyna tapped the silver ring.

  “I believe you’re sincere,” she said. “But not everyone at camp does. Octavian thinks you’re a spy. He thinks you were sent here by Gaea to find our weaknesses and distract us. He believes the old legends about the Greeks. ”

  “Old legends?”

  Reyna’s hand rested halfway between her dagger and the jelly beans. Percy had a feeling that if she made a sudden move, she wouldn’t be grabbing for the candy.

  “Some believe Greek demigods still exist,” she said, “heroes who follow the older forms of the gods. There are legends of battles between Roman and Greek heroes in relatively modern times—the American Civil War, for instance. I have no proof of this, and if our Lares know anything, they refuse to say. But Octavian believes the Greeks are still around, plotting our downfall, working with the forces of Gaea. He thinks you are one of them. ”

  “Is that what you believe?”

  “I believe you came from somewhere,” she said. “You’re important, and dangerous. Two gods have taken a special interest in you since you arrived, so I can’t believe you’d work against Olympus…or Rome. ” She shrugged. “Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps the gods sent you here to test my judgment. But I think…I think you were sent here to make up for the loss of Jason. ”

  Jason . . . Percy couldn’t go very far in this camp without hearing that name.

  “The way you talk about him…” Percy said. “Were you two a couple?”

  Reyna’s eyes bored into him—like the eyes of a hungry wolf. Percy had seen enough hungry wolves to know.

  “We might have been,” Reyna said, “given time. Praetors work closely together. It’s common for them to become romantically involved. But Jason was only praetor for a few months before he disappeared. Ever since then, Octavian has been pestering me, agitating for new elections. I’ve resisted. I need a partner in power—but I’d prefer someone like Jason. A warrior, not a schemer. ”

  She waited. Percy realized she was sending him a silent invitation.

  His throat went dry. “Oh . . . you mean . . . oh. ”

&
nbsp; “I believe the gods sent you to help me,” Reyna said. “I don’t understand where you come from, any more than I understood it four years ago. But I think your arrival is some sort of repayment. You destroyed my home once. Now you’ve been sent to save my home. I don’t hold a grudge against you for the past, Percy. My sister hates you still, it’s true, but Fate brought me here to Camp Jupiter. I’ve done well. All I ask is that you work with me for the future. I intend to save this camp. ”

  The metal dogs glared at him, their mouths frozen in snarl mode. Percy found Reyna’s eyes a lot harder to meet.

  “Look, I’ll help,” he promised. “But I’m new here. You’ve got a lot of good people who know this camp better than I do. If we succeed on this quest, Hazel and Frank will be heroes. You could ask one of them—”

  “Please,” Reyna said. “No one will follow a child of Pluto. There’s something about that girl…rumors about where she came from. …No, she won’t do. As for Frank Zhang, he has a good heart, but he’s hopelessly naïve and inexperienced. Besides, if the others found out about his family history at this camp—”

  “Family history?”

  “The point is, Percy, you are the real power on this quest. You are a seasoned veteran. I’ve seen what you can do. A son of Neptune wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you return successfully from this mission, the legion might be saved. The praetorship will be yours for the taking. Together, you and I could expand the power of Rome. We could raise an army and find the Doors of Death, crush Gaea’s forces once and for all. You would find me a very helpful…friend. ”

  She said that word like it could have several meanings, and he could pick which one.

  Percy’s feet started tapping on the floor, anxious to run. “Reyna…I’m honored, and all. Seriously. But I’ve got a girlfriend. And I don’t want power, or a praetorship. ”

  Percy was afraid he’d make her mad. Instead she just raised her eyebrows.

  “A man who turns down power?” she said. “That’s not very Roman of you. Just think about it. In four days, I have to make a choice. If we are to fight off an invasion, we must have two strong praetors. I’d prefer you, but if you fail on your quest, or don’t come back, or refuse my offer…Well, I’ll work with Octavian. I mean to save this camp, Percy Jackson. Things are worse than you realize. ”

  Percy remembered what Frank said about the monster attacks getting more frequent. “How bad?”

  Reyna’s nails dug into the table. “Even the senate doesn’t know the whole truth. I’ve asked Octavian not to share his auguries, or we’d have mass panic. He’s seen a great army marching south, more than we can possibly defeat. They’re led by a giant—”

  “Alcyoneus?”

  “I don’t think so. If he is truly invulnerable in Alaska, he’d be foolish to come here himself. It must be one of his brothers. ”

 
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