The son of neptune, p.7
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       The Son of Neptune, p.7

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 7

 

  Don bleated. “Fauns! Work for the camp! Hilarious!”

  “Fauns are, um, free spirits,” Hazel explained. “They hang out here because, well, it’s a safe place to hang out and beg. We tolerate them, but—”

  “Oh, Hazel is awesome,” Don said. “She’s so nice! All the other campers are like, ‘Go away, Don. ’ But she’s like, ‘Please go away, Don. ’ I love her!”

  The faun seemed harmless, but Percy still found him unsettling. He couldn’t shake the feeling that fauns should be more than just homeless guys begging for denarii.

  Don looked at the ground in front of them and gasped. “Score!”

  He reached for something, but Hazel screamed, “Don, no!”

  She pushed him out of the way and snatched up a small shiny object. Percy caught a glimpse of it before Hazel slipped it into her pocket. He could have sworn it was a diamond.

  “Come on, Hazel,” Don complained. “I could’ve bought a year’s worth of doughnuts with that!”

  “Don, please,” Hazel said. “Go away. ”

  She sounded shaken, like she’d just saved Don from a charging bulletproof elephant.

  The faun sighed. “Aw, I can’t stay mad at you. But I swear, it’s like you’re good luck. Every time you walk by—”

  “Good-bye, Don,” Hazel said quickly. “Let’s go, Percy. ”

  She started jogging. Percy had to sprint to catch up.

  “What was that about?” Percy asked. “That diamond in the road—”

  “Please,” she said. “Don’t ask. ”

  They walked in uneasy silence the rest of the way to TempleHill. A crooked stone path led past a crazy assortment of tiny altars and massive domed vaults. Statues of gods seemed to follow Percy with their eyes.

  Hazel pointed out the Temple of Bellona. “Goddess of war,” she said. “That’s Reyna’s mom. ” Then they passed a massive red crypt decorated with human skulls on iron spikes.

  “Please tell me we’re not going in there,” Percy said.

  Hazel shook her head. “That’s the Temple of Mars Ultor. ”

  “Mars . . . Ares, the war god?”

  “That’s his Greek name,” Hazel said. “But, yeah, same guy. Ultor means ‘the Avenger. ’ He’s the second-most important god of Rome. ”

  Percy wasn’t thrilled to hear that. For some reason, just looking at the ugly red building made him feel angry.

  He pointed toward the summit. Clouds swirled over the largest temple, a round pavilion with a ring of white columns supporting a domed roof. “I’m guessing that’s Zeus—uh, I mean, Jupiter’s? That’s where we’re heading?”

  “Yeah. ” Hazel sounded edgy. “Octavian reads auguries there—the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. ”

  Percy had to think about it, but the Latin words clicked into English. “Jupiter…the best and the greatest?”

  “Right. ”

  “What’s Neptune’s title?” Percy asked. “The coolest and most awesome?”

  “Um, not quite. ” Hazel gestured to a small blue building the size of a toolshed. A cobweb-covered trident was nailed above the door.

  Percy peeked inside. On a small altar sat a bowl with three dried-up, moldy apples.

  His heart sank. “Popular place. ”

  “I’m sorry, Percy,” Hazel said. “It’s just…Romans were always scared of the sea. They only used ships if they had to. Even in modern times, having a child of Neptune around has always been a bad omen. The last time one joined the legion

  …well, it was 1906, when Camp Jupiter was located across the bay in San Francisco. There was this huge earthquake—”

  “You’re telling me a child of Neptune caused that?”

  “So they say. ” Hazel looked apologetic. “Anyway…

  Romans fear Neptune, but they don’t love him much. ” Percy stared at the cobwebs on the trident. Great, he thought. Even if he joined the camp, he would never be loved. His best hope was to be scary to his new campmates. Maybe if he did really well, they’d give him some moldy apples.

  Still…standing at Neptune’s altar, he felt something stirring inside him, like waves rippling through his veins.

  He reached in his backpack and dug out the last bit of food from his trip—a stale bagel. It wasn’t much, but he set it on the altar.

  “Hey…uh, Dad. ” He felt pretty stupid talking to a bowl of fruit. “If you can hear me, help me out, okay? Give me my memory back. Tell me—tell me what to do. ”

  His voice cracked. He hadn’t meant to get emotional, but he was exhausted and scared, and he’d been lost for so long, he would’ve given anything for some guidance. He wanted to know something about his life for sure, without grabbing for missing memories.

  Hazel put her hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be okay. You’re here now. You’re one of us. ”

  He felt awkward, depending on an eighth-grade girl he barely knew for comfort, but he was glad she was there.

  Above them, thunder rumbled. Red lightning lit up the hill.

  “Octavian’s almost done,” Hazel said. “Let’s go. ”

  Compared to Neptune’s tool shed, Jupiter’s temple was definitely optimus and maximus.

  The marble floor was etched with fancy mosaics and Latin inscriptions. Sixty feet above, the domed ceiling sparkled gold. The whole temple was open to the wind.

  In the center stood a marble altar, where a kid in a toga was doing some sort of ritual in front of a massive golden statue of the big dude himself: Jupiter the sky god, dressed in a silk XXXL purple toga, holding a lightning bolt.

  “It doesn’t look like that,” Percy muttered.

  “What?” Hazel asked.

  “The master bolt,” Percy said.

  “What are you talking about?”

  “I—” Percy frowned. For a second, he’d thought he remembered something. Now it was gone. “Nothing, I guess. ”

  The kid at the altar raised his hands. More red lightning flashed in the sky, shaking the temple. Then he put his hands down, and the rumbling stopped. The clouds turned from gray to white and broke apart.

  A pretty impressive trick, considering the kid didn’t look like much. He was tall and skinny, with straw-colored hair, oversized jeans, a baggy T-shirt, and a drooping toga. He looked like a scarecrow wearing a bed sheet.

  “What’s he doing?” Percy murmured.

  The guy in the toga turned. He had a crooked smile and a slightly crazy look in his eyes, like he’d just been playing an intense video game. In one hand he held a knife. In the other hand was something like a dead animal. That didn’t make him look any less crazy.

  “Percy,” Hazel said, “this is Octavian. ”

  “The graecus!” Octavian announced. “How interesting. ”

  “Uh, hi,” Percy said. “Are you killing small animals?”

  Octavian looked at the fuzzy thing in his hand and laughed. “No, no. Once upon a time, yes. We used to read the will of the gods by examining animal guts—chickens, goats, that sort of thing. Nowadays, we use these. ”

  He tossed the fuzzy thing to Percy. It was a disemboweled teddy bear. Then Percy noticed that there was a whole pile of mutilated stuffed animals at the foot of Jupiter’s statue.

  “Seriously?” Percy asked.

  Octavian stepped off the dais. He was probably about eighteen, but so skinny and sickly pale, he could’ve passed for younger. At first he looked harmless, but as he got closer, Percy wasn’t so sure. Octavian’s eyes glittered with harsh curiosity, like he might gut Percy just as easily as a teddy bear if he thought he could learn something from it.

  Octavian narrowed his eyes. “You seem nervous. ”

  “You remind me of someone,” Percy said. “I can’t remember who. ”

  “Possibly my namesake, Octavian—Augustus Caesar. Everyone says I bear a remarkable resemblance. ”

  Percy didn’t think that was it, but he couldn’t pin down the memory. “Why did you call me ‘the Gree
k’?”

  “I saw it in the auguries. ” Octavian waved his knife at the pile of stuffing on the altar. “The message said: The Greek has arrived. Or possibly: The goose has cried. I’m thinking the first interpretation is correct. You seek to join the legion?”

  Hazel spoke for him. She told Octavian everything that had happened since they met at the tunnel—the gorgons, the fight at the river, the appearance of Juno, their conversation with Reyna.

  When she mentioned Juno, Octavian looked surprised.

  “Juno,” he mused. “We call her Juno Moneta. Juno the Warner. She appears in times of crisis, to counsel Rome about great threats. ”

  He glanced at Percy, as if to say: like mysterious Greeks, for instance.

  “I hear the Feast of Fortuna is this week,” Percy said. “The gorgons warned there’d be an invasion on that day. Did you see that in your stuffing?”

  “Sadly, no. ” Octavian sighed. “The will of the gods is hard to discern. And these days, my vision is even darker. ”

  “Don’t you have…I don’t know,” Percy said, “an oracle or something?”

  “An oracle!” Octavian smiled. “What a cute idea. No, I’m afraid we’re fresh out of oracles. Now, if we’d gone questing for the Sibylline books, like I recommended—”

  “The Siba-what?” Percy asked.

  “Books of prophecy,” Hazel said, “which Octavian is obsessed with. Romans used to consult them when disasters happened. Most people believe they burned up when Rome fell. ”

  “Some people believe that,” Octavian corrected. “Unfortunately our present leadership won’t authorize a quest to look for them—”

  “Because Reyna isn’t stupid,” Hazel said.

  “—so we have only a few remaining scraps from the books,” Octavian continued. “A few mysterious predictions, like these. ”

  He nodded to the inscriptions on the marble floor. Percy stared at the lines of words, not really expecting to understand them. He almost choked.

  “That one. ” He pointed, translating as he read aloud:“Seven half-bloods shall answer the call. To storm or fire the world must fall—”

  “Yes, yes. ” Octavian finished it without looking: “An oath to keep with a final breath, and foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. ”

  “I—I know that one. ” Percy thought thunder was shaking the temple again. Then he realized his whole body was trembling. “That’s important. ”

  Octavian arched an eyebrow. “Of course it’s important. We call it the Prophecy of Seven, but it’s several thousand years old. We don’t know what it means. Every time someone tries to interpret it…Well, Hazel can tell you. Bad things happen. ”

  Hazel glared at him. “Just read the augury for Percy. Can he join the legion or not?”

  Percy could almost see Octavian’s mind working, calculating whether or not Percy would be useful. He held out his hand for Percy’s backpack. “That’s a beautiful specimen. May I?”

 
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