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Authors: Rick Riordan

Tags: #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Action & Adventure, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Other, #Fiction - Young Adult

The Son of Neptune (3 page)

BOOK: The Son of Neptune
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“Detention?” Percy asked.

“Rome, child,” the old woman said. “Rome.”

Percy wasn’t sure he’d heard her right. True, his memory was gone. His brain hadn’t felt right since he had woken up at the Wolf House. But he was pretty sure Rome wasn’t in California.

They kept running. The glow at the end of the tunnel grew brighter, and finally they burst into sunlight.

Percy froze. Spread out at his feet was a bowl-shaped valley several miles wide. The basin floor was rumpled with smaller hills, golden plains, and stretches of forest. A small clear rivercut a winding course from a lake in the center and around the perimeter, like a capital G.

The geography could’ve been anywhere in northern California—live oaks and eucalyptus trees, gold hills and blue skies. That big inland mountain—what was it called, Mount Diablo?—rose in the distance, right where it should be.

But Percy felt like he’d stepped into a secret world. In the center of the valley, nestled by the lake, was a small city of white marble buildings with red-tiled roofs. Some had domes and columned porticoes, like national monuments. Others looked like palaces, with golden doors and large gardens. He could see an open plaza with freestanding columns, fountains, and statues. A five-story-tall Roman coliseum gleamed in the sun, next to a long oval arena like a racetrack.

Across the lake to the south, another hill was dotted with even more impressive buildings—temples, Percy guessed. Several stone bridges crossed the river as it wound through the valley, and in the north, a long line of brickwork arches stretched from the hills into the town. Percy thought it looked like an elevated train track. Then he realized it must be an aqueduct.

The strangest part of the valley was right below him. About two hundred yards away, just across the river, was some sort of military encampment. It was about a quarter mile square, with earthen ramparts on all four sides, the tops lined with sharpened spikes. Outside the walls ran a dry moat, also studded with spikes. Wooden watchtowers rose at each corner, manned by sentries with oversized, mounted crossbows. Purple banners hung from the towers. A wide gateway opened on the far side of camp, leading toward the city. A narrower gate stood closed on the riverbank side. Inside, the fortress bustled with activity: dozens of kids going to and from barracks, carrying weapons, polishing armor. Percy heard the clank of hammers at a forge and smelled meat cooking over a fire.

Something about this place felt very familiar, yet not quite right.

“Camp Jupiter,” Frank said. “We’ll be safe once—”

Footsteps echoed in the tunnel behind them. Hazel burst into the light. She was covered with stone dust and breathing hard. She’d lost her helmet, so her curly brown hair fell around her shoulders. Her armor had long slash marks in front from the claws of a gorgon. One of the monsters had tagged her with a 50% off sticker.

“I slowed them down,” she said. “But they’ll be here any second.”

Frank cursed. “We have to get across the river.”

June squeezed Percy’s neck tighter. “Oh, yes, please. I can’t get my dress wet.”

Percy bit his tongue. If this lady was a goddess, she must’ve been the goddess of smelly, heavy, useless hippies. But he’d come this far. He’d better keep lugging her along.

It’s a kindness,
she’d said.
And if you don’t, the gods will die, the world we know will perish, and everyone from your old life will be destroyed.

If this was a test, he couldn’t afford to get an F.

He stumbled a few times as they ran for the river. Frank and Hazel kept him on his feet.

They reached the riverbank, and Percy stopped to catch his breath. The current was fast, but the river didn’t look deep. Only a stone’s throw across stood the gates of the fort.

“Go, Hazel.” Frank nocked two arrows at once. “Escort Percy so the sentries don’t shoot him. It’s my turn to hold off the baddies.”

Hazel nodded and waded into the stream.

Percy started to follow, but something made him hesitate. Usually he loved the water, but this river seemed…powerful, and not necessarily friendly.

“The Little Tiber,” said June sympathetically. “It flows with the power of the original Tiber, river of the empire. This is your last chance to back out, child. The mark of Achilles is a Greek blessing. You can’t retain it if you cross into Roman territory. The Tiber will wash it away.”

Percy was too exhausted to understand all that, but he got the main point. “If I cross, I won’t have iron skin anymore?”

June smiled. “So what will it be? Safety, or a future of pain and possibility?”

Behind him, the gorgons screeched as they flew from the tunnel. Frank let his arrows fly.

From the middle of the river, Hazel yelled, “Percy, come on!”

Up on the watchtowers, horns blew. The sentries shouted and swiveled their crossbows toward the gorgons.

Annabeth
,
Percy thought. He forged into the river. It was icy cold, much swifter than he’d imagined, but that didn’t bother him. New strength surged through his limbs. His senses tingled like he’d been injected with caffeine. He reached the other side and put the old woman down as the camp’s gates opened. Dozens of kids in armor poured out.

Hazel turned with a relieved smile. Then she looked over Percy’s shoulder, and her expression changed to horror. “Frank!”

Frank was halfway across the river when the gorgons caught him. They swooped out of the sky and grabbed him by either arm. He screamed in pain as their claws dug into his skin.

The sentries yelled, but Percy knew they couldn’t get a clear shot. They’d end up killing Frank. The other kids drew swords and got ready to charge into the water, but they’d be too late.

There was only one way.

Percy thrust out his hands. An intense tugging sensation filled his gut, and the Tiber obeyed his will. The river surged. Whirlpools formed on either side of Frank. Giant watery hands erupted from the stream, copying Percy’s movements. The giant hands grabbed the gorgons, who dropped Frank in surprise. Then the hands lifted the squawking monsters in a liquid vise grip.

Percy heard the other kids yelping and backing away, but he stayed focused on his task. He made a smashing gesture with his fists, and the giant hands plunged the gorgons into the Tiber. The monsters hit bottom and broke into dust. Glittering clouds of gorgon essence struggled to re-form, but the river pulled them apart like a blender. Soon every trace of the gorgons was swept downstream. The whirlpools vanished, and the current returned to normal.

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.”

P
ERCY 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
principia.”

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.

“Easy, guys,” Reyna told the greyhounds.

They stopped growling, but kept eyeing Percy as though they were imagining him in a doggie bag.

“They won’t attack,” Reyna said, “unless you try to steal something, or unless I tell them to. That’s Argentum and Aurum.”

“Silver and Gold,” Percy said. The Latin meanings popped into his head like Hazel had said they would. He almost asked which dog was which. Then he realized that that was a stupid question.

Reyna set her dagger on the table. Percy had the vague feeling he’d seen her before. Her hair was black and glossy as volcanic rock, woven in a single braid down her back. She had the poise of a sword fighter—relaxed yet vigilant, as if ready to spring into action at any moment. The worry lines around her eyes made her look older than she probably was.

“We
have
met,” he decided. “I don’t remember when. Please, if you can tell me anything—”

“First things first,” Reyna said. “I want to hear your story. What
do
you remember? How did you get here? And don’t lie. My dogs don’t like liars.”

Argentum and Aurum snarled to emphasize the point.

Percy told his story—how he’d woken up at the ruined mansion in the woods of Sonoma. He described his time with Lupa and her pack, learning their language of gestures and expressions, learning to survive and fight.

Lupa had taught him about demigods, monsters, and gods. She’d explained that she was one of the guardian spirits of Ancient Rome. Demigods like Percy were still responsible for carrying on Roman traditions in modern times—fighting monsters, serving the gods, protecting mortals, and upholding the memory of the empire. She’d spent weeks training him, until he was as strong and tough and vicious as a wolf. When she was satisfied with his skills, she’d sent him south, telling him that if he survived the journey, he might find a new home and regain his memory.

None of it seemed to surprise Reyna. In fact, she seemed to find it pretty ordinary—except for one thing.

“No memory at all?” she asked. “You
still
remember nothing?”

“Fuzzy bits and pieces.” Percy glanced at the greyhounds. He didn’t want to mention Annabeth. It seemed too private, and he was still confused about where to find her. He was sure they’d met at a camp—but this one didn’t feel like the right place.

Also, he was reluctant to share his one clear memory: Annabeth’s face, her blond hair and gray eyes, the way she laughed, threw her arms around him, and gave him a kiss whenever he did something stupid.

She must have kissed me a lot, Percy thought.

He feared that if he spoke about that memory to anyone, it would evaporate like a dream. He couldn’t risk that.

Reyna spun her dagger. “Most of what you’re describing is normal for demigods. At a certain age, one way or another, we find our way to the Wolf House. We’re tested and trained.

If Lupa thinks we’re worthy, she sends us south to join the legion. But I’ve never heard of someone losing his memory. How did you find Camp Jupiter?”

Percy told her about the last three days—the gorgons who wouldn’t die, the old lady who turned out to be a goddess, and finally meeting Hazel and Frank at the tunnel in the hill.

Hazel took the story from there. She described Percy as brave and heroic, which made him uncomfortable. All he’d done was carry a hippie bag lady.

Reyna studied him. “You’re old for a recruit. You’re what, sixteen?”

“I think so,” Percy said.

“If you spent that many years on your own, without training or help, you should be dead. A son of Neptune? You’d have a powerful aura that would attract all kinds of monsters.”

“Yeah,” Percy said. “I’ve been told that I smell.”

Reyna almost cracked a smile, which gave Percy hope. Maybe she was human after all.

“You must’ve been somewhere before the Wolf House,” she said.

Percy shrugged. Juno had said something about him slumbering, and he
did
have a vague feeling that he’d been asleep—maybe for a long time. But that didn’t make sense.

Reyna sighed. “Well, the dogs haven’t eaten you, so I suppose you’re telling the truth.”

“Great,” Percy said. “Next time, can I take a polygraph?”

Reyna stood. She paced in front of the banners. Her metal dogs watched her go back and forth.

“Even if I accept that you’re not an enemy,” she said, “you’re not a typical recruit. The Queen of Olympus simply doesn’t appear at camp, announcing a new demigod. The last time a major god visited us in person like that…” She shook her head. “I’ve only heard legends about such things. And a son of Neptune…that’s not a good omen. Especially now.”

“What’s wrong with Neptune?” Percy asked. “And what do you mean, ‘especially now’?”

Hazel shot him a warning look.

Reyna kept pacing. “You’ve fought Medusa’s sisters, who haven’t been seen in thousands of years. You’ve agitated our Lares, who are calling you a
graecus.
And you wear strange symbols—that shirt, the beads on your necklace. What do they mean?”

Percy looked down at his tattered orange T-shirt. It might have had words on it at one point, but they were too faded to read. He should have thrown the shirt away weeks ago. It was worn to shreds, but he couldn’t bear to get rid of it. He just kept washing it in streams and water fountains as best he could and putting it back on.

As for the necklace, the four clay beads were each decorated with a different symbol. One showed a trident. Another displayed a miniature Golden Fleece. The third was etched with the design of a maze, and the last had an image of a building—maybe the Empire State Building?—with names Percy didn’t recognize engraved around it. The beads felt important, like pictures from a family album, but he couldn’t remember what they meant.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“And your sword?” Reyna asked.

Percy checked his pocket. The pen had reappeared as it always did. He pulled it out, but then realized he’d never shown Reyna the sword. Hazel and Frank hadn’t seen it either. How had Reyna known about it?

Too late to pretend it didn’t exist.…He uncapped the pen. Riptide sprang to full form. Hazel gasped. The greyhounds barked apprehensively.

“What is that?” Hazel asked. “I’ve never seen a sword like that.”

“I have,” Reyna said darkly. “It’s very old—a Greek design. We used to have a few in the armory before…” She stopped herself. “The metal is called Celestial bronze. It’s deadly to monsters, like Imperial gold, but even rarer.”

BOOK: The Son of Neptune
6.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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