The son of neptune, p.6
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       The Son of Neptune, p.6

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 6

 

  “Yes, Reyna. ”

  Percy still had so many questions, his brain felt like it would melt. But Reyna made it clear the audience was over. She sheathed her dagger. The metal dogs stood and growled, inching toward Percy.

  “Good luck with the augury, Percy Jackson,” she said. “If Octavian lets you live, perhaps we can compare notes…about your past. ”

  IV Percy

  ON THE WAY OUT OF CAMP, Hazel bought him an espresso drink and a cherry muffin from Bombilo the two-headed coffee merchant.

  Percy inhaled the muffin. The coffee was great. Now, Percy thought, if he could just get a shower, a change of clothes, and some sleep, he’d be golden. Maybe even Imperial golden.

  He watched a bunch of kids in swimsuits and towels head into a building that had steam coming out of a row of chimneys. Laughter and watery sounds echoed from inside, like it was an indoor pool—Percy’s kind of place.

  “Bath house,” Hazel said. “We’ll get you in there before dinner, hopefully. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a Roman bath. ” Percy sighed with anticipation.

  As they approached the front gate, the barracks got bigger and nicer. Even the ghosts looked better—with fancier armor and shinier auras. Percy tried to decipher the banners and symbols hanging in front of the buildings.

  “You guys are divided into different cabins?” he asked.

  “Sort of. ” Hazel ducked as a kid riding a giant eagle swooped overhead. “We have five cohorts of about forty kids each. Each cohort is divided into barracks of ten—like roommates, kind of. ”

  Percy had never been great at math, but he tried to multiply. “You’re telling me there’s two hundred kids at camp?”

  “Roughly. ”

  “And all of them are children of the gods? The gods have been busy. ”

  Hazel laughed. “Not all of them are children of majorgods. There are hundreds of minor Roman gods. Plus, a lot of the campers are legacies—second or third generation. Maybe their parents were demigods. Or their grandparents. ”

  Percy blinked. “Children of demigods?”

  “Why? Does that surprise you?”

  Percy wasn’t sure. The last few weeks he’d been so worried about surviving day to day. The idea of living long enough to be an adult and have kids of his own—that seemed like an impossible dream.

  “These Legos—”

  “Legacies,” Hazel corrected.

  “They have powers like a demigod?”

  “Sometimes. Sometimes not. But they can be trained. All the best Roman generals and emperors—you know, they all claimed to be descended from gods. Most of the time, they were telling the truth. The camp augur we’re going to meet, Octavian, he’s a legacy, descendant of Apollo. He’s got the gift of prophecy, supposedly. ”

  “Supposedly?”

  Hazel made a sour face. “You’ll see. ”

  That didn’t make Percy feel so great, if this dude Octavian had Percy’s fate in his hands.

  “So the divisions,” he asked, “the cohorts, whatever—you’re divided according to who your godly parent is?”

  Hazel stared at him. “What a horrible idea! No, the officers decide where to assign recruits. If we were divided according to god, the cohorts would be all uneven. I’d be alone. ”

  Percy felt a twinge of sadness, like he’d been in that situation. “Why? What’s your ancestry?”

  Before she could answer, someone behind them yelled, “Wait!”

  A ghost ran toward them—an old man with a medicine-ball belly and toga so long he kept tripping on it. He caught up to them and gasped for air, his purple aura flickering around him.

  “This is him?” the ghost panted. “A new recruit for the Fifth, perhaps?”

  “Vitellius,” Hazel said, “we’re sort of in a hurry. ”

  The ghost scowled at Percy and walked around him, inspecting him like a used car. “I don’t know,” he grumbled. “We need only the best for the cohort. Does he have all his teeth? Can he fight? Does he clean stables?”

  “Yes, yes, and no,” Percy said. “Who are you?”

  “Percy, this is Vitellius. ” Hazel’s expression said: Just humor him. “He’s one of our Lares; takes an interest in new recruits. ”

  On a nearby porch, other ghosts snickered as Vitellius paced back and forth, tripping over his toga and hiking up his sword belt.

  “Yes,” Vitellius said, “back in Caesar’s day—that’s Julius Caesar, mind you—the Fifth Cohort was something! Twelfth Legion Fulminata, pride of Rome! But these days? Disgraceful what we’ve come to. Look at Hazel here, using a spatha. Ridiculous weapon for a Roman legionnaire—that’s for cavalry! And you, boy—you smell like a Greek sewer. Haven’t you had a bath?”

  “I’ve been a little busy fighting gorgons,” Percy said.

  “Vitellius,” Hazel interrupted, “we’ve got to get Percy’s augury before he can join. Why don’t you check on Frank? He’s in the armory doing inventory. You know how much he values your help. ”

  The ghost’s furry purple eyebrows shot up. “Mars Almighty! They let the probatio check the armor? We’ll be ruined!”

  He stumbled off down the street, stopping every few feet to pick up his sword or rearrange his toga.

  “O-h-h-kay,” Percy said.

  “Sorry,” Hazel said. “He’s eccentric, but he’s one of the oldest Lares. Been around since the legion was founded. ”

  “He called the legion…Fulminata?” Percy said.

  “‘Armed with Lightning,’” Hazel translated. “That’s our motto. The Twelfth Legion was around for the entire Roman Empire. When Rome fell, a lot of legions just disappeared. We went underground, acting on secret orders from Jupiter himself: stay alive, recruit demigods and their children, keep Rome going. We’ve been doing that ever since, moving around to wherever Roman influence was strongest. The last few centuries, we’ve been in America. ”

  As bizarre as that sounded, Percy had no trouble believing it. In fact, it sounded familiar, like something he’d always known.

  “And you’re in the Fifth Cohort,” he guessed, “which maybe isn’t the most popular?”

  Hazel scowled. “Yeah. I joined up last September. ”

  “So…just a few weeks before that guy Jason disappeared. ”

  Percy knew he’d hit a sore spot. Hazel looked down. She was silent long enough to count every paving stone.

  “Come on,” she said at last. “I’ll show you my favorite view. ”

  They stopped outside the main gates. The fort was situated on the highest point in the valley, so they could see pretty much everything.

  The road led down to the river and divided. One path led south across a bridge, up to the hill with all the temples. The other road led north into the city, a miniature version of Ancient Rome. Unlike the military camp, the city looked chaotic and colorful, with buildings crowded together at haphazard angles. Even from this far away, Percy could see people gathered in the plaza, shoppers milling around an open-air market, parents with kids playing in the parks.

  “You’ve got families here?” he asked.

  “In the city, absolutely,” Hazel said. “When you’re accepted into the legion, you do ten years of service. After that, you can muster out whenever you want. Most demigods go into the mortal world. But for some—well, it’s pretty dangerous out there. This valley is a sanctuary. You can go to college in the city, get married, have kids, retire when you get old. It’s the only safe place on earth for people like us. So yeah, a lot of veterans make their homes there, under the protection of the legion. ”

  Adult demigods. Demigods who could live without fear, get married, raise a family. Percy couldn’t quite wrap his mind around that. It seemed too good to be true. “But if this valley is attacked?”

  Hazel pursed her lips. “We have defenses. The borders are magical. But our strength isn’t what it used to be. Lately, the monster attacks have been increasing. What you said about the gor
gons not dying…we’ve noticed that too, with other monsters. ”

  “Do you know what’s causing it?”

  Hazel looked away. Percy could tell that she was holding something back—something she wasn’t supposed to say.

  “It’s—it’s complicated,” she said. “My brother says Death isn’t—”

  She was interrupted by an elephant.

  Someone behind them shouted, “Make way!”

  Hazel dragged Percy out of the road as a demigod rode past on a full-grown pachyderm covered in black Kevlar armor. The word elephant was printed on the side of his armor, which seemed a little obvious to Percy.

  The elephant thundered down the road and turned north, heading toward a big open field where some fortifications were under construction.

  Percy spit dust out of his mouth. “What the—?”

  “Elephant,” Hazel explained.

  “Yeah, I read the sign. Why do you have an elephant in a bulletproof vest?”

  “War games tonight,” Hazel said. “That’s Hannibal. If we didn’t include him, he’d get upset. ”

  “We can’t have that. ”

  Hazel laughed. It was hard to believe she’d looked so moody a moment ago. Percy wondered what she’d been about to say. She had a brother. Yet she had claimed she’d be alone if the camp sorted her by her godly parent.

  Percy couldn’t figure her out. She seemed nice and easy going, mature for somebody who couldn’t have been more than thirteen. But she also seemed to be hiding a deep sadness, like she felt guilty about something.

  Hazel pointed south across the river. Dark clouds were gathering over Temple Hill. Red flashes of lightning washed the monuments in blood-colored light.

  “Octavian is busy,” Hazel said. “We’d better get over there. ”

  On the way, they passed some goat-legged guys hanging out on the side of the road.

  “Hazel!” one of them cried.

  He trotted over with a big grin on his face. He wore a faded Hawaiian shirt and nothing for pants except thick brown goat fur. His massive Afro jiggled. His eyes were hidden behind little round rainbow-tinted glasses. He held a cardboard sign that read: WILL WORK SING TALK go away for denarii.

  “Hi, Don,” Hazel said. “Sorry, we don’t have time—”

  “Oh, that’s cool! That’s cool!” Don trotted along with them. “Hey, this guy’s new!” He grinned at Percy. “Do you have three denarii for the bus? Because I left my wallet at home, and I’ve got to get to work, and—”

  “Don,” Hazel chided. “Fauns don’t have wallets. Or jobs. Or homes. And we don’t have buses. ”

  “Right,” he said cheerfully, “but do you have denarii?”

  “Your name is Don the Faun?” Percy asked.

  “Yeah. So?”

  “Nothing. ” Percy tried to keep a straight face. “Why don’t fauns have jobs? Shouldn’t they work for the camp?”

 

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