The son of neptune, p.4
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       The Son of Neptune, p.4

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 4


  Percy stood on the riverbank. His clothes and his skin steamed as if the Tiber’s waters had given him an acid bath. He felt exposed, raw…vulnerable.

  In the middle of the Tiber, Frank stumbled around, looking stunned but perfectly fine. Hazel waded out and helped him ashore. Only then did Percy realize how quiet the other kids had become.

  Everyone was staring at him. Only the old lady June looked unfazed.

  “Well, that was a lovely trip,” she said. “Thank you, Percy Jackson, for bringing me to Camp Jupiter. ”

  One of the girls made a choking sound. “Percy…Jackson?”

  She sounded as if she recognized his name. Percy focused on her, hoping to see a familiar face.

  She was obviously a leader. She wore a regal purple cloak over her armor. Her chest was decorated with medals. She must have been about Percy’s age, with dark, piercing eyes and long black hair. Percy didn’t recognize her, but the girl stared at him as if she’d seen him in her nightmares.

  June laughed with delight. “Oh, yes. You’ll have such fun together!”

  Then, just because the day hadn’t been weird enough already, the old lady began to glow and change form. She grew until she was a shining, seven-foot-tall goddess in a blue dress, with a cloak that looked like goat’s skin over her shoulders. Her face was stern and stately. In her hand was a staff topped with a lotus flower.

  If it was possible for the campers to look more stunned, they did. The girl with the purple cloak knelt. The others followed her lead. One kid got down so hastily he almost impaled himself on his sword.

  Hazel was the first to speak. “Juno. ”

  She and Frank also fell to their knees, leaving Percy the only one standing. He knew he should probably kneel too, but after carrying the old lady so far, he didn’t feel like showing her that much respect.

  “Juno, huh?” he said. “If I passed your test, can I have my memory and my life back?”

  The goddess smiled. “In time, Percy Jackson, if you succeed here at camp. You’ve done well today, which is a good start. Perhaps there’s hope for you yet. ”

  She turned to the other kids. “Romans, I present to you the son of Neptune. For months he has been slumbering, but now he is awake. His fate is in your hands. The Feast of Fortune comes quickly, and Death must be unleashed if you are to stand any hope in the battle. Do not fail me!”

  Juno shimmered and disappeared. Percy looked at Hazel and Frank for some kind of explanation, but they seemed just as confused as he was. Frank was holding something Percy hadn’t noticed before—two small clay flasks with cork stoppers, like potions, one in each hand. Percy had no idea where they’d come from, but he saw Frank slip them into his pockets. Frank gave him a look like: We’ll talk about it later.

  The girl in the purple cloak stepped forward. She examined Percy warily, and Percy couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted to run him through with her dagger.

  “So,” she said coldly, “a son of Neptune, who comes to us with the blessing of Juno. ”

  “Look,” he said, “my memory’s a little fuzzy. Um, it’s gone, actually. Do I know you?”

  The girl hesitated. “I am Reyna, praetor of the Twelfth Legion. And…no, I don’t know you. ”

  That last part was a lie. Percy could tell from her eyes. But he also understood that if he argued with her about it here, in front of her soldiers, she wouldn’t appreciate it.

  “Hazel,” said Reyna, “bring him inside. I want to question him at the principia. Then we’ll send him to Octavian. We must consult the auguries before we decide what to do with him. ”

  “What do you mean,” Percy asked, “‘decide what to do with’ me?”

  Reyna’s hand tightened on her dagger. Obviously she was not used to having her orders questioned. “Before we accept anyone into camp, we must interrogate them and read the auguries. Juno said your fate is in our hands. We have to know whether the goddess has brought us as a new recruit. …”

  Reyna studied Percy as if she found that doubtful.

  “Or,” she said more hopefully, “if she’s brought us an enemy to kill. ”

  III Percy

  PERCY WASN’T SCARED OF GHOSTS, which was lucky. Half the people in camp were dead.

  Shimmering purple warriors stood outside the armory, polishing ethereal swords. Others hung out in front of the barracks. A ghostly boy chased a ghostly dog down the street. And at the stables, a big glowing red dude with the head of a wolf guarded a herd of…Were those unicorns?

  None of the campers paid the ghosts much attention, but as Percy’s entourage walked by, with Reyna in the lead and Frank and Hazel on either side, all the spirits stopped what they were doing and stared at Percy. A few looked angry. The little boy ghost shrieked something like “Greggus!” and turned invisible.

  Percy wished he could turn invisible too. After weeks on his own, all this attention made him uneasy. He stayed between Hazel and Frank and tried to look inconspicuous.

  “Am I seeing things?” he asked. “Or are those—”

  “Ghosts?” Hazel turned. She had startling eyes, like fourteen-karat gold. “They’re Lares. House gods. ”

  “House gods,” Percy said. “Like…smaller than real gods, but larger than apartment gods?”

  “They’re ancestral spirits,” Frank explained. He’d removed his helmet, revealing a babyish face that didn’t go with his military haircut or his big burly frame. He looked like a toddler who’d taken steroids and joined the Marines.

  “The Lares are kind of like mascots,” he continued. “Mostlythey’re harmless, but I’ve never seen them so agitated. ”

  “They’re staring at me,” Percy said. “That ghost kid called me Greggus. My name isn’t Greg. ”

  “Graecus,” Hazel said. “Once you’ve been here awhile, you’ll start understanding Latin. Demigods have a natural sense for it. Graecus means Greek. ”

  “Is that bad?” Percy asked.

  Frank cleared his throat. “Maybe not. You’ve got that type of complexion, the dark hair and all. Maybe they think you’re actually Greek. Is your family from there?”

  “Don’t know. Like I said, my memory is gone. ”

  “Or maybe…” Frank hesitated.

  “What?” Percy asked.

  “Probably nothing,” Frank said. “Romans and Greeks have an old rivalry. Sometimes Romans use graecus as an insult for someone who’s an outsider—an enemy. I wouldn’t worry about it. ”

  He sounded pretty worried.

  They stopped at the center of camp, where two wide stone-paved roads met at a T.

  A street sign labeled the road to the main gates as via praetoria. The other road, cutting across the middle of camp, was labeled via principalis. Under those markers were hand-painted signs like berkeley 5 miles; NEW ROME 1 MILE; OLD ROME 7280 MILES; HADES 2310 MILES (pointing straight down); RENO 208 MILES, AND CERTAIN DEATH: YOU ARE HERE!

  For certain death, the place looked pretty clean and orderly. The buildings were freshly whitewashed, laid out in neat grids like the camp had been designed by a fussy math teacher. The barracks had shady porches, where campers lounged in hammocks or played cards and drank sodas. Each dorm had a different collection of banners out front displaying Roman numerals and various animals—eagle, bear, wolf, horse, and something that looked like a hamster.

  Along the Via Praetoria, rows of shops advertised food, armor, weapons, coffee, gladiator equipment, and toga rentals. A chariot dealership had a big advertisement out front: CAESAR XLS W/ANTILOCK BRAKES, NO DENARII DOWN!

  At one corner of the crossroads stood the most impressive building—a two-story wedge of white marble with a columned portico like an old-fashioned bank. Roman guards stood out front. Over the doorway hung a big purple banner with the gold letters SPQR embroidered inside a laurel wreath.

  “Your headquarters?” Percy asked.

  Reyna faced him, her eyes still cold and hostile. “It’s called the pri
ncipia. ”

  She scanned the mob of curious campers who had followed them from the river. “Everyone back to your duties. I’ll give you an update at evening muster. Remember, we have war games after dinner. ”

  The thought of dinner made Percy’s stomach rumble. The scent of barbecue from the dining hall made his mouth water. The bakery down the street smelled pretty wonderful too, but he doubted Reyna would let him get an order to go.

  The crowd dispersed reluctantly. Some muttered comments about Percy’s chances.

  “He’s dead,” said one.

  “Would be those two who found him,” said another.

  “Yeah,” muttered another. “Let him join the Fifth Cohort. Greeks and geeks. ”

  Several kids laughed at that, but Reyna scowled at them, and they cleared off.

  “Hazel,” Reyna said. “Come with us. I want your report on what happened at the gates. ”

  “Me too?” Frank said. “Percy saved my life. We’ve got to let him—”

  Reyna gave Frank such a harsh look, he stepped back.

  “I’d remind you, Frank Zhang,” she said, “you are on probatio yourself. You’ve caused enough trouble this week. ”

  Frank’s ears turned red. He fiddled with a little tablet on a cord around his neck. Percy hadn’t paid much attention to it, but it looked like a name tag made out of lead.

  “Go to the armory,” Reyna told him. “Check our inventory. I’ll call you if I need you. ”

  “But—” Frank caught himself. “Yes, Reyna. ”

  He hurried off.

  Reyna waved Hazel and Percy toward the headquarters. “Now, Percy Jackson, let’s see if we can improve your memory. ”

  The principia was even more impressive inside. On the ceiling glittered a mosaic of Romulus and Remus under their adopted mama she-wolf (Lupa had told Percy that story a million times). The floor was polished marble. The walls were draped in velvet, so Percy felt like he was inside the world’s most expensive camping tent. Along the back wall stood a display of banners and wooden poles studded with bronze medals—military symbols, Percy guessed. In the center was one empty display stand, as if the main banner had been taken down for cleaning or something.

  In the back corner, a stairwell led down. It was blocked by a row of iron bars like a prison door. Percy wondered what was down there—monsters? Treasure? Amnesiac demigods who had gotten on Reyna’s bad side?

  In the center of the room, a long wooden table was cluttered with scrolls, notebooks, tablet computers, daggers, and a large bowl filled with jelly beans, which seemed kind of out of place. Two life-sized statues of greyhounds—one silver, one gold—flanked the table. Reyna walked behind the table and sat in one of two high-backed chairs. Percy wished he could sit in the other, but Hazel remained standing. Percy got the feeling he was supposed to also.

  “So…” he started to say.

  The dog statues bared their teeth and growled.

  Percy froze. Normally he liked dogs, but these glared at him with ruby eyes. Their fangs looked sharp as razors.

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