The house of hades, p.31
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       The House of Hades, p.31
 

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 31

 

  The other Romans muttered, glaring at their visitors. Jason remembered how persuasive Octavian could be, and he was winning the officers to his side.

  Rachel Dare faced the augur. “Octavian, son of Apollo, you should take this more seriously. Even Romans respected your father’s Oracle of Delphi. ”

  “Ha!” Octavian said. “You’re the Oracle of Delphi? Right. And I’m the Emperor Nero!”

  “At least Nero could play music,” Grover muttered.

  Octavian balled his fists.

  Suddenly the wind shifted. It swirled around the Romans with a hissing sound, like a nest of snakes. Rachel Dare glowed in a green aura, as if hit by a soft emerald spotlight. Then the wind faded and the aura was gone.

  The sneer melted from Octavian’s face. The Romans rustled uneasily.

  “It’s your decision,” Rachel said, as if nothing had happened. “I have no specific prophecy to offer you, but I can see glimpses of the future. I see the Athena Parthenos on Half-Blood Hill. I see her bringing it. ” She pointed at Reyna. “Also, Ella has been murmuring lines from your Sibylline Books—”

  “What?” Reyna interrupted. “The Sibylline Books were destroyed centuries ago. ”

  “I knew it!” Octavian pounded his fist into his palm. “That harpy they brought back from the quest—Ella. I knew she was spouting prophecies! Now I understand. She—she somehow memorized a copy of the Sibylline Books. ”

  Reyna shook her head in disbelief. “How is that possible?”

  “We don’t know,” Rachel admitted. “But, yes, that seems to be the case. Ella has a perfect memory. She loves books. Somewhere, somehow, she read your Roman book of prophecies. Now she’s the only source for them. ”

  “Your friends lied,” Octavian said. “They told us the harpy was just muttering gibberish. They stole her!”

  Grover huffed indignantly. “Ella isn’t your property! She’s a free creature. Besides, she wants to be at Camp Half-Blood. She’s dating one of my friends, Tyson. ”

  “The Cyclops,” Reyna remembered. “A harpy dating a Cyclops…”

  “That’s not relevant!” Octavian said. “The harpy has valuable Roman prophecies. If the Greeks won’t return her, we should take their Oracle hostage! Guards!”

  Two centurions advanced, their pila leveled. Grover brought his pipes to his lips, played a quick jig, and their spears turned into Christmas trees. The guards dropped them in surprise.

  “Enough!” Reyna shouted.

  She didn’t often raise her voice. When she did, everyone listened.

  “We’ve strayed from the point,” she said. “Rachel Dare, you’re telling me Annabeth is in Tartarus, yet she’s found a way to send this message. She wants me to bring this statue from the ancient lands to your camp. ”

  Rachel nodded. “Only a Roman can return it and restore peace. ”

  “And why would the Romans want peace,” Reyna asked, “after your ship attacked our city?”

  “You know why,” Rachel said. “To avoid this war. To reconcile the gods’ Greek and Roman sides. We have to work together to defeat Gaea. ”

  Octavian stepped forward to speak, but Reyna shot him a withering look.

  “According to Percy Jackson,” Reyna said, “the battle with Gaea will be fought in the ancient lands. In Greece. ”

  “That’s where the giants are,” Rachel agreed. “Whatever magic, whatever ritual the giants are planning to wake the Earth Mother, I sense it will happen in Greece. But…well, our problems aren’t limited to the ancient lands. That’s why I brought Grover to talk to you. ”

  The satyr tugged his goatee. “Yeah…see, over the last few months, I’ve been talking to satyrs and nature spirits across the continent. They’re all saying the same thing. Gaea is stirring—I mean, she’s right on the edge of consciousness. She’s whispering in the minds of naiads, trying to turn them. She’s causing earthquakes, uprooting the dryads’ trees. Last week alone, she appeared in human form in a dozen different places, scaring the horns off some of my friends. In Colorado, a giant stone fist rose out of a mountain and swatted some Party Ponies like flies. ”

  Reyna frowned. “Party Ponies?”

  “Long story,” Rachel said. “The point is: Gaea will rise everywhere. She’s already stirring. No place will be safe from the battle. And we know that her first targets are going to be the demigod camps. She wants us destroyed. ”

  “Speculation,” Octavian said. “A distraction. The Greeks fear our attack. They’re trying to confuse us. It’s the Trojan Horse all over again!”

  Reyna twisted the silver ring she always wore, with the sword and torch symbols of her mother, Bellona.

  “Marcus,” she said, “bring Scipio from the stables. ”

  “Reyna, no!” Octavian protested.

  She faced the Greeks. “I will do this for Annabeth, for the hope of peace between our camps, but do not think I have forgotten the insults to Camp Jupiter. Your ship fired on our city. You declared war—not us. Now, leave. ”

  Grover stamped his hoof. “Percy would never—”

  “Grover,” Rachel said, “we should go. ”

  Her tone said: Before it’s too late.

  After they had retreated back down the stairs, Octavian wheeled on Reyna. “Are you mad?”

  “I am praetor of the legion,” Reyna said. “I judge this to be in the best interest of Rome. ”

  “To get yourself killed? To break our oldest laws and travel to the ancient lands? How will you even find their ship, assuming you survive the journey?”

  “I will find them,” Reyna said. “If they are sailing for Greece, I know a place Jason will stop. To face the ghosts in the House of Hades, he will need an army. There is only one place where he can find that sort of help. ”

  In Jason’s dream, the building seemed to tilt under his feet. He remembered a conversation he’d had with Reyna years ago, a promise they had made to each other. He knew what she was talking about.

  “This is insanity,” Octavian muttered. “We’re already under attack. We must take the offensive! Those hairy dwarfs have been stealing our supplies, sabotaging our scouting parties—you know the Greeks sent them. ”

  “Perhaps,” Reyna said. “But you will not launch an attack without my orders. Continue scouting the enemy camp. Secure your positions. Gather all the allies you can, and if you catch those dwarfs, you have my blessing to send them back to Tartarus. But do not attack Camp Half-Blood until I return. ”

  Octavian narrowed his eyes. “While you’re gone, the augur is the senior officer. I will be in charge. ”

  “I know. ” Reyna didn’t sound happy about it. “But you have my orders. You all heard them. ” She scanned the faces of the centurions, daring them to question her.

  She stormed off, her purple cloak billowing and her dogs at her heels.

  Once she was gone, Octavian turned to the centurions. “Gather all the senior officers. I want a meeting as soon as Reyna has left on her fool’s quest. There will be a few changes in the legion’s plans. ”

  One of the centurions opened his mouth to respond, but for some reason he spoke in Piper’s voice: “WAKE UP!”

  Jason’s eyes snapped open, and he saw the ocean’s surface hurtling toward him.

  JASON SURVIVED—BARELY.

  Later, his friends explained that they hadn’t seen him falling from the sky until the last second. There was no time for Frank to turn into an eagle and catch him; no time to formulate a rescue plan.

  Only Piper’s quick thinking and charmspeak had saved his life. She’d yelled WAKE UP! with so much force that Jason felt like he’d been hit with defibrillator paddles. With a millisecond to spare, he’d summoned the winds and avoided becoming a floating patch of demigod grease on the surface of the Adriatic.

  Back on board, he had pulled Leo aside and suggested a course correction. Fortunately, Leo trusted him enough not to ask why.

  “Weird vacation spot. ” Leo
grinned. “But, hey, you’re the boss!”

  Now, sitting with his friends in the mess hall, Jason felt so awake, he doubted he would sleep for a week. His hands were jittery. He couldn’t stop tapping his feet. He guessed that this was how Leo felt all the time, except that Leo had a sense of humor.

  After what Jason had seen in his dream, he didn’t feel much like joking.

  While they ate lunch, Jason reported on his midair vision. His friends were quiet long enough for Coach Hedge to finish a peanut butter and banana sandwich, along with the ceramic plate.

  The ship creaked as it sailed through the Adriatic, its remaining oars still out of alignment from the giant turtle attack. Every once in a while Festus the figurehead creaked and squeaked through the speakers, reporting the autopilot status in that weird machine language that only Leo could understand.

  “A note from Annabeth. ” Piper shook her head in amazement. “I don’t see how that’s possible, but if it is—”

  “She’s alive,” Leo said. “Thank the gods and pass the hot sauce. ”

  Frank frowned. “What does that mean?”

  Leo wiped the chip crumbs off his face. “It means pass the hot sauce, Zhang. I’m still hungry. ”

  Frank slid over a jar of salsa. “I can’t believe Reyna would try to find us. It’s taboo, coming to the ancient lands. She’ll be stripped of her praetorship. ”

  “If she lives,” Hazel said. “It was hard enough for us to make it this far with seven demigods and a warship. ”

  “And me. ” Coach Hedge belched. “Don’t forget, cupcake, you got the satyr advantage. ”

  Jason had to smile. Coach Hedge could be pretty ridiculous, but Jason was glad he’d come along. He thought about the satyr he’d seen in his dream—Grover Underwood. He couldn’t imagine a satyr more different from Coach Hedge, but they both seemed brave in their own way.

  It made Jason wonder about the fauns back at Camp Jupiter—whether they could be like that if the Roman demigods expected more from them. Another thing to add to his list. …

  His list. He hadn’t realized that he had one until that moment, but ever since leaving Camp Half-Blood, he’d been thinking of ways to make Camp Jupiter more…Greek.

  He had grown up at Camp Jupiter. He’d done well there. But he had always been a little unconventional. He chafed under the rules.

  He had joined the Fifth Cohort because everyone told him not to. They warned him it was the worst unit. So he’d thought, Fine, I’ll make it the best.

  Once he became praetor, he’d campaigned to rename the legion the First Legion rather than the Twelfth Legion, to symbolize a new start for Rome. The idea had almost caused a mutiny. New Rome was all about tradition and legacies; the rules didn’t change easily. Jason had learned to live with that and even rose to the top.

  But now that he had seen both camps, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Camp Half-Blood might have taught him more about himself. If he survived this war with Gaea and returned to Camp Jupiter as a praetor, could he change things for the better?

 
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