The son of neptune, p.46
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       The Son of Neptune, p.46

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 46

 

  Mars clapped silently. “Not bad, kid. Ever heard of the Battle of Carrhae? Huge disaster for the Romans. They fought these guys called the Parthians on the eastern border of the empire. Fifteen thousand Romans died. Ten thousand more were taken prisoner. ”

  “And one of the prisoners was my ancestor SenecaGracchus?”

  “Exactly,” Mars agreed. “The Parthians put the captured legionnaires to work, since they were pretty good fighters. Except then Parthia got invaded again from the other direction—”

  “By the Chinese,” Frank guessed. “And the Roman prisoners got captured again. ”

  “Yeah. Kind of embarrassing. Anyway, that’s how a Roman legion got to China. The Romans eventually put down roots and built a new hometown called—”

  “Li-Jien,” Frank said. “My mother said that was our ancestral home. Li-Jien. Legion. ”

  Mars looked pleased. “Now you’re getting it. And old Seneca Gracchus, he had your family’s gift. ”

  “My mom said he fought dragons,” Frank remembered. “She said he was…he was the most powerful dragon of all. ”

  “He was good,” Mars admitted. “Not good enough to avoid the bad luck of his legion, but good. He settled in China, passed the family gift to his kids, and so on. Eventually your family emigrated to North America and got involved with Camp Jupiter—”

  “Full circle,” Frank finished. “Juno said I would bring the family full circle. ”

  “We’ll see. ” Mars nodded at his grandmother. “She wanted to tell you all this herself, but I figured I’d cover some of it since the old bird hasn’t got much strength. So do you understand your gift?”

  Frank hesitated. He had an idea, but it seemed crazy—even crazier than a family moving from Greece to Rome to China to Canada. He didn’t want to say it aloud. He didn’t want to be wrong and have Mars laugh at him. “I—I think so. But against an army of those ogres—”

  “Yeah, it’ll be tough. ” Mars stood and stretched. “When your grandmother wakes up in the morning, she’ll offer you some help. Then I imagine she’ll die. ”

  “What? But I have to save her! She can’t just leave me. ”

  “She’s lived a full life,” Mars said. “She’s ready to move on. Don’t be selfish. ”

  “Selfish!”

  “The old woman only stuck around this long out of a sense of duty. Your mom was the same way. That’s why I loved her. She always put her duty first, ahead of everything. Even her life. ”

  “Even me. ”

  Mars took off his sunglasses. Where his eyes should’ve been, miniature spheres of fire boiled like nuclear explosions. “Self-pity isn’t helpful, kid. It isn’t worthy of you. Even without the family gift, your mom gave you your most important traits—bravery, loyalty, brains. Now you’ve got to decide how to use them. In the morning, listen to your grandmother. Take her advice. You can still free Thanatos and save the camp. ”

  “And leave my grandmother behind to die. ”

  “Life is only precious because it ends, kid. Take it from a god. You mortals don’t know how lucky you are. ”

  “Yeah,” Frank muttered. “Real lucky. ”

  Mars laughed—a harsh metallic sound. “Your mom used to tell me this Chinese proverb. Eat bitter—”

  “Eat bitter, taste sweet,” Frank said. “I hate that proverb. ”

  “But it’s true. What do they call it these days—no pain, no gain? Same concept. You do the easy thing, the appealing thing, the peaceful thing, mostly it turns out sour in the end. But if you take the hard path—ah, that’s how you reap the sweet rewards. Duty. Sacrifice. They mean something. ”

  Frank was so disgusted he could hardly speak. This was his father?

  Sure, Frank understood about his mom being a hero. He understood she’d saved lives and been really brave. But she’d left him alone. That wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.

  “I’ll be going,” Mars promised. “But first—you said you were weak. That’s not true. You want to know why Juno spared you, Frank? Why that piece of wood didn’t burn yet?

  It’s because you’ve got a role to play. You think you’re not as good as the other Romans. You think Percy Jackson is better than you. ”

  “He is,” Frank grumbled. “He battled you and won. ”

  Mars shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe so. But every hero has a fatal flaw. Percy Jackson? He’s too loyal to his friends. He can’t give them up, not for anything. He was told that, years ago. And someday soon, he’s going to face a sacrifice he can’t make. Without you, Frank—without your sense of duty—he’s going to fail. The whole war will go sideways, and Gaea will destroy our world. ”

  Frank shook his head. He couldn’t hear this.

  “War is a duty,” Mars continued. “The only real choice is whether you accept it, and what you fight for. The legacy of Rome is on the line—five thousand years of law, order, civilization. The gods, the traditions, the cultures that shaped the world you live in: it’s all going to crumble, Frank, unless you win this. I think that’s worth fighting for. Think about it. ”

  “What’s mine?” Frank asked.

  Mars raised an eyebrow. “Your what?”

  “Fatal flaw. You said all heroes have one. ”

  The god smiled dryly. “You gotta answer that yourself, Frank. But you’re finally asking the right questions. Now, get some sleep. You need the rest. ”

  The god waved his hand. Frank’s eyes felt heavy. He collapsed, and everything went dark.

  “Fai,” said a familiar voice, harsh and impatient.

  Frank blinked his eyes. Sunlight streamed into the room.

  “Fai, get up. As much as I would like to slap that ridiculous face of yours, I am in no condition to get out of bed. ”

  “Grandmother?”

  She came into focus, looking down at him from the bed. He lay sprawled on the floor. Someone had put a blanket over him during the night and a pillow under his head, but he had no idea how it had happened.

  “Yes, my silly ox. ” Grandmother still looked horribly weak and pale, but her voice was as steely as ever. “Now, get up. The ogres have surrounded the house. We have much to discuss if you and your friends are to escape here alive. ”

  XXXV Frank

  ONE LOOK OUT THE WINDOW, and Frank knew he was in trouble.

  At the edge of the lawn, the Laistrygonians were stacking bronze cannonballs. Their skin gleamed red. Their shaggy hair, tattoos, and claws didn’t look any prettier in the morning light.

  Some carried clubs or spears. A few confused ogres carried surfboards, like they’d shown up at the wrong party. All of them were in a festive mood—giving each other high fives, tying plastic bibs around their necks, breaking out the knives and forks. One ogre had fired up a portable barbecue and was dancing in an apron that said KISS THE COOK.

  The scene would’ve been almost funny, except Frank knew he was the main course.

  “I’ve sent your friends to the attic,” Grandmother said.

  “You can join them when we’re done. ”

  “The attic?” Frank turned. “You told me I could never go in there. ”

  “That’s because we keep weapons in the attic, silly boy. Do you think this is the first time monsters have attacked our family?”

  “Weapons,” Frank grumbled. “Right. I’ve never handled weapons before. ”

  Grandmother’s nostrils flared. “Was that sarcasm, Fai Zhang?”

  “Yes, Grandmother. ”

  “Good. There may be hope for you yet. Now, sit. You must eat. ”

  She waved her hand at the nightstand, where someone had set a glass of orange juice and a plate of poached eggs and bacon on toast—Frank’s favorite breakfast.

  Despite his troubles, Frank suddenly felt hungry. He looked at Grandmother in astonishment. “Did you—”

  “Make you breakfast? By Buddha’s monkey, of course not! And it wasn’t the house staff. Too dangerous for them here. No, your girlfriend Hazel
made that for you. And brought you a blanket and pillow last night. And picked out some clean clothes for you in your bedroom. By the way, you should shower. You smell like burning horse hair. ”

  Frank opened and closed his mouth like a fish. He couldn’t make sounds come out. Hazel had done all that for him? Frank had been sure he’d destroyed any chance with her last night when he had summoned Gray.

  “She’s. . . um. . . she’s not—”

  “Not your girlfriend?” Grandmother guessed. “Well, she should be, you dolt! Don’t let her get away. You need strong women in your life, if you haven’t noticed. Now, to business. ”

  Frank ate while Grandmother gave him a sort of military briefing. In the daylight, her skin was so translucent, her veins seemed to glow. Her breathing sounded like a crackly paper bag inflating and deflating, but she spoke with firmness and clarity.

  She explained that the ogres had been surrounding the house for three days, waiting for Frank to show up.

  “They want to cook you and eat you,” she said distastefully, “which is ridiculous. You’d taste terrible. ”

  “Thank you, Grandmother. ”

  She nodded. “I admit, I was somewhat pleased when they said you were coming back. I am glad to see you one last time, even if your clothes are dirty and you need a haircut. Is this how you represent your family?”

  “I’ve been a little busy, Grandmother. ”

  “No excuse for sloppiness. At any rate, your friends have slept and eaten. They are taking stock of the weapons in the attic. I told them you would be along shortly, but there are too many ogres to fend off for long. We must speak of your escape plan. Look in my nightstand. ”

  Frank opened the drawer and pulled out a sealed envelope.

  “You know the airfield at the end of the park?” Grandmother asked. “Could you find it again?”

  Frank nodded mutely. It was about three miles to the north, down the main road through the canyon. Grandmother had taken him there sometimes when she would charter planes to bring in special shipments from China.

  “There is a pilot standing by to leave at a moment’s notice,” Grandmother said. “He is an old family friend. I have a letter for him in that envelope, asking him to take you north. ”

  “But—”

  “Do not argue, boy,” she muttered. “Mars has been visiting me these last few days, keeping me company. He told me of your quest. Find Death in Alaska and release him. Do your duty. ”

  “But if I succeed, you’ll die. I’ll never see you again. ”

  “That is true,” Grandmother agreed. “But I’ll die anyway. I’m old. I thought I made that clear. Now, did your praetor give you letters of introduction?”

  “Uh, yes, but—”

  “Good. Show those to the pilot as well. He’s a veteran of the legion. In case he has any doubts, or gets cold feet, those credentials will make him honor-bound to help you in any way possible. All you have to do is reach the airfield. ”

 

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