The son of neptune, p.8
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       The Son of Neptune, p.8

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 8

 

  Percy didn’t understand what he meant, but Octavian snatched the Bargain Mart panda pillow that was sticking out of the top of his pack. It was just a silly stuffed toy, but Percy had carried it a long way. He was kind of fond of it. Octavian turned toward the altar and raised his knife.

  “Hey!” Percy protested.

  Octavian slashed open the panda’s belly and poured its stuffing over the altar. He tossed the panda carcass aside, muttered a few words over the fluff, and turned with a big smile on his face.

  “Good news!” he said. “Percy may join the legion. We’ll assign him a cohort at evening muster. Tell Reyna that I approve. ”

  Hazel’s shoulders relaxed. “Uh…great. Come on, Percy. ”

  “Oh, and Hazel,” Octavian said. “I’m happy to welcome Percy into the legion. But when the election for praetor comes up, I hope you’ll remember—”

  “Jason isn’t dead,” Hazel snapped. “You’re the augur. You’re supposed to be looking for him!”

  “Oh, I am!” Octavian pointed at the pile of gutted stuffed animals. “I consult the gods every day! Alas, after eight months, I’ve found nothing. Of course, I’m still looking. But if Jason doesn’t return by the Feast of Fortuna, we must act. We can’t have a power vacuum any longer. I hope you’ll support me for praetor. It would mean so much to me. ”

  Hazel clenched her fists. “Me. Support. You?”

  Octavian took off his toga, setting it and his knife on the altar. Percy noticed seven lines on Octavian’s arm—seven years of camp, Percy guessed. Octavian’s mark was a harp, the symbol of Apollo.

  “After all,” Octavian told Hazel, “I might be able to help you. It would be a shame if those awful rumors about you kept circulating…or, gods forbid, if they turned out to be true. ”

  Percy slipped his hand into his pocket and grabbed his pen. This guy was blackmailing Hazel. That was obvious. One sign from Hazel, and Percy was ready to bust out Riptide and see how Octavian liked being at the other end of a blade.

  Hazel took a deep breath. Her knuckles were white. “I’ll think about it. ”

  “Excellent,” Octavian said. “By the way, your brother is here. ”

  Hazel stiffened. “My brother? Why?”

  Octavian shrugged. “Why does your brother do anything? He’s waiting for you at your father’s shrine. Just…ah, don’t invite him to stay too long. He has a disturbing effect on the others. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to keep searching for our poor lost friend, Jason. Nice to meet you, Percy. ”

  Hazel stormed out of the pavilion, and Percy followed. He was sure he’d never been so glad to leave a temple in his life.

  As Hazel marched down the hill, she cursed in Latin. Percy didn’t understand all of it, but he got son of a gorgon, power-hungry snake, and a few choice suggestions about where Octavian could stick his knife.

  “I hate that guy,” she muttered in English. “If I had my way—”

  “He won’t really get elected praetor, will he?” Percy asked.

  “I wish I could be certain. Octavian has a lot of friends, most of them bought. The rest of the campers are afraid of him. ”

  “Afraid of that skinny little guy?”

  “Don’t underestimate him. Reyna’s not so bad by herself, but if Octavian shares her power…” Hazel shuddered. “Let’s go see my brother. He’ll want to meet you. ”

  Percy didn’t argue. He wanted to meet this mysterious brother, maybe learn something about Hazel’s background—who her dad was, what secret she was hiding. Percy couldn’t believe she’d done anything to be guilty about. She seemed too nice. But Octavian had acted like he had some first-class dirt on her.

  Hazel led Percy to a black crypt built into the side of the hill. Standing in front was a teenage boy in black jeans and an aviator jacket.

  “Hey,” Hazel called. “I’ve brought a friend. ”

  The boy turned. Percy had another one of those weird flashes: like this was somebody he should know. The kid was almost as pale as Octavian, but with dark eyes and messy black hair. He didn’t look anything like Hazel. He wore a silver skull ring, a chain for a belt, and a black T-shirt with skull designs. At his side hung a pure-black sword.

  For a microsecond when he saw Percy, the boy seemed shocked—panicked even, like he’d been caught in a searchlight.

  “This is Percy Jackson,” Hazel said. “He’s a good guy. Percy, this is my brother, the son of Pluto. ”

  The boy regained his composure and held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. “I’m Nico di Angelo. ”

  V Hazel

  HAZEL FELT LIKE SHE’D JUST INTRODUCED two nuclear bombs. Now she was waiting to see which one exploded first.

  Until that morning, her brother Nico had been the most powerful demigod she knew. The others at Camp Jupiter saw him as a traveling oddball, about as harmless as the fauns. Hazel knew better. She hadn’t grown up with Nico, hadn’t even known him very long. But she knew Nico was more dangerous than Reyna, or Octavian, or maybe even Jason.

  Then she’d met Percy.

  At first, when she saw him stumbling up the highway with the old lady in his arms, Hazel had thought he might be a god in disguise. Even though he was beat up, dirty, and stooped with exhaustion, he’d had an aura of power. He had the good looks of a Roman god, with sea-green eyes and wind blown black hair.

  She’d ordered Frank not to fire on him. She thought the gods might be testing them. She’d heard myths like that: a kid with an old lady begs for shelter, and when the rude mortals refuse—boom, they get turned into banana slugs.

  Then Percy had controlled the river and destroyed the gorgons. He’d turned a pen into a bronze sword. He’d stirred up the whole camp with talk about the graecus.

  A son of the sea god. . .

  Long ago, Hazel had been told that a descendant of Neptune would save her. But could Percy really take away her curse? It seemed too much to hope for.

  Percy and Nico shook hands. They studied each other warily, and Hazel fought the urge to run. If these two busted out the magic swords, things could get ugly.

  Nico didn’t appear scary. He was skinny and sloppy in his rumpled black clothes. His hair, as always, looked like he’d just rolled out of bed.

  Hazel remembered when she’d met him. The first time she’d seen him draw that black sword of his, she’d almost laughed. The way he called it “Stygian iron,” all serious-like—he’d looked ridiculous. This scrawny white boy was no fighter. She certainly hadn’t believed they were related.

  She had changed her mind about that quick enough.

  Percy scowled. “I—I know you. ”

  Nico raised his eyebrows. “Do you?” He looked at Hazel for explanation.

  Hazel hesitated. Something about her brother’s reaction wasn’t right. He was trying hard to act casual, but when he had first seen Percy, Hazel had noticed his momentary look of panic. Nico already knew Percy. She was sure of it. Why was he pretending otherwise?

  Hazel forced herself to speak. “Um…Percy’s lost his memory. ” She told her brother what had happened since Percy had arrived at the gates.

  “So, Nico…” she continued carefully, “I thought…you know, you travel all over. Maybe you’ve met demigods like Percy before, or. . . ”

  Nico’s expression turned as dark as Tartarus. Hazel didn’t understand why, but she got the message: Drop it.

  “This story about Gaea’s army,” Nico said. “You warned Reyna?”

  Percy nodded. “Who is Gaea, anyway?”

  Hazel’s mouth went dry. Just hearing that name…It was all she could do to keep her knees from buckling. She remembered a woman’s soft sleepy voice, a glowing cave, and feeling her lungs fill with black oil.

  “She’s the earth goddess. ” Nico glanced at the ground as if it might be listening. “The oldest goddess of all. She’s in a deep sleep most of the time, but she hates the gods and their children. ”

&nb
sp; “Mother Earth…is evil?” Percy asked.

  “Very,” Nico said gravely. “She convinced her son, the Titan Kronos—um, I mean, Saturn—to kill his dad, Uranus, and take over the world. The Titans ruled for a long time. Then the Titans’ children, the Olympian gods, overthrew them. ”

  “That story seems familiar,” Percy sounded surprised, like an old memory had partially surfaced. “But I don’t think I ever heard the part about Gaea. ”

  Nico shrugged. “She got mad when the gods took over. She took a new husband—Tartarus, the spirit of the abyss—and gave birth to a race of giants. They tried to destroy Mount Olympus, but the gods finally beat them. At least…the first time. ”

  “The first time?” Percy repeated.

  Nico glanced at Hazel. He probably wasn’t meaning to make her feel guilty, but she couldn’t help it. If Percy knew the truth about her, and the horrible things she’d done…

  “Last summer,” Nico continued, “Saturn tried to make a comeback. There was a second Titan war. The Romans at Camp Jupiter stormed his headquarters on Mount Othrys, across the bay, and destroyed his throne. Saturn disappeared—” He hesitated, watching Percy’s face. Hazel got the feeling her brother was nervous that more of Percy’s memory might come back.

  “Um, anyway,” Nico continued, “Saturn probably faded back to the abyss. We all thought the war was over. Now it looks like the Titans’ defeat stirred up Gaea. She’s starting to wake. I’ve heard reports of giants being reborn. If they mean to challenge the gods again, they’ll probably start by destroying the demigods. …”

  “You’ve told Reyna this?” Percy asked.

  “Of course. ” Nico’s jaw tensed. “The Romans don’t trust me. That’s why I was hoping she’d listen to you. Children of Pluto…well, no offense, but they think we’re even worse than children of Neptune. We’re bad luck. ”

  “They let Hazel stay here,” Percy noted.

  “That’s different,” Nico said.

  “Why?”

  “Percy,” Hazel cut in, “look, the giants aren’t the worst problem. Even . . . even Gaea isn’t the worst problem. The thing you noticed about the gorgons, how they wouldn’t die, that’s our biggest worry. ” She looked at Nico. She was getting dangerously close to her own secret now, but for some reason Hazel trusted Percy. Maybe because he was also an outsider, maybe because he’d saved Frank at the river. He deserved to know what they were facing.

  “Nico and I,” she said carefully, “we think that what’s happening is…Death isn’t—”

  Before she could finish, a shout came from down the hill.

  Frank jogged toward them, wearing his jeans, purple camp shirt, and denim jacket. His hands were covered with grease from cleaning weapons.

  As it did every time she saw Frank, Hazel’s heart performed a little skip-beat tap-dance—which really irritated her. Sure, he was a good friend—one of the only people at camp who didn’t treat her as if she had a contagious disease. But she didn’t like him in that way.

 
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