Read The Son of Neptune Online

Authors: Rick Riordan

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

The Son of Neptune (4 page)

BOOK: The Son of Neptune
10.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Imperial gold?” Percy asked.

Reyna unsheathed her dagger. Sure enough, the blade was gold. “The metal was consecrated in ancient times, at the Pantheon in Rome. Its existence was a closely guarded secret of the emperors—a way for their champions to slay monsters that threatened the empire. We used to have more weapons like this, but now…well, we scrape by. I use this dagger. Hazel has a
spatha,
a cavalry sword. Most legionnaires use a shorter sword called a
gladius.
But that weapon of yours is not Roman at all. It’s another sign you’re not a typical demigod. And your arm...”

“What about it?” Percy asked.

Reyna held up her own forearm. Percy hadn’t noticed before, but she had a tattoo on the inside: the letters
SPQR
, a crossed sword and torch, and under that, four parallel lines like score marks.

Percy glanced at Hazel.

“We all have them,” she confirmed, holding up her arm. “All full members of the legion do.”

Hazel’s tattoo also had the letters
SPQR
, but she only had one score mark, and her emblem was different: a black glyph like a cross with curved arms and a head:

Percy looked at his own arms. A few scrapes, some mud, and a fleck of Crispy Cheese ’n’ Wiener, but no tattoos.

“So you’ve never been a member of the legion,” Reyna said. “These marks can’t be removed. I thought perhaps…” She shook her head, as if dismissing an idea.

Hazel leaned forward. “If he’s survived as a loner all this time, maybe he’s seen Jason.” She turned to Percy. “Have you ever met a demigod like us before? A guy in a purple shirt, with marks on his arm—”

“Hazel.” Reyna’s voice tightened. “Percy’s got enough to worry about.”

Percy touched the point of his sword, and Riptide shrank back into a pen. “I haven’t seen anyone like you guys before. Who’s Jason?”

Reyna gave Hazel an irritated look. “He is…he
was
my colleague.” She waved her hand at the second empty chair. “The legion normally has two elected praetors. Jason Grace, son of Jupiter, was our other praetor until he disappeared last October.”

Percy tried to calculate. He hadn’t paid much attention to the calendar out in the wilderness, but Juno had mentioned that it was now June. “You mean he’s been gone eight months, and you haven’t replaced him?”

“He might not be dead,” Hazel said. “We haven’t given up.”

Reyna grimaced. Percy got the feeling this guy Jason might’ve been more to her than just a colleague.

“Elections only happen in two ways,” Reyna said. “Either the legion raises someone on a shield after a major success on the battlefield—and we haven’t had any major battles—or we hold a ballot on the evening of June 24, at the Feast of Fortuna. That’s in five days.”

Percy frowned. “You have a feast for
tuna
?

“Fortuna,”
Hazel corrected. “She’s the goddess of luck. Whatever happens on her feast day can affect the entire rest of the year. She can grant the camp good luck…or
really
bad luck.”

Reyna and Hazel both glanced at the empty display stand, as if thinking about what was missing.

A chill went down Percy’s back. “The Feast of Fortune…The gorgons mentioned that. So did Juno. They said the camp was going to be attacked on that day, something about a big bad goddess named Gaea, and an army, and Death being unleashed. You’re telling me that day is this
week
?”

Reyna’s fingers tightened around the hilt of her dagger.

“You will say nothing about that outside this room,” she ordered. “I will not have you spreading more panic in the camp.”

“So it’s true,” Percy said. “Do you know what’s going to happen? Can we stop it?”

Percy had just met these people. He wasn’t sure he even liked Reyna. But he wanted to help. They were demigods, the same as him. They had the same enemies. Besides, Percy remembered what Juno had told him: it wasn’t just this camp at risk. His old life, the gods, and the entire world might be destroyed. Whatever was coming down, it was huge.

“We’ve talked enough for now,” Reyna said. “Hazel, take him to Temple Hill. Find Octavian. On the way you can answer Percy’s questions. Tell him about the legion.”

“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.”

O
N 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
major
gods. 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 gorgons 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?”

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.

BOOK: The Son of Neptune
10.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Viper's Defiant Mate by S. E. Smith
INK: Abstraction by Roccaforte, Bella
Irresistible You by Connelly, Victoria
Dakota Home by Debbie Macomber
Box That Watch Found by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Slow Burn: A Texas Heat Novel by McKenzie, Octavia
A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve