Read The Son of Neptune Online
Authors: Rick Riordan
Tags: #Legends; Myths; Fables, #Action & Adventure, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Other, #Fiction - Young Adult
T LEAST THE CAMP FOOD WAS GOOD
Invisible wind spirits—
—waited on the campers and seemed to know exactly what everyone wanted. They blew plates and cups around so quickly, the mess hall looked like a delicious hurricane. If you got up too fast, you were likely to get beaned by beans or potted by a pot roast.
Hazel got shrimp gumbo—her favorite comfort food. It made her think about being a little girl in New Orleans, before her curse set in and her mom got so bitter. Percy got a cheeseburger and a strange-looking soda that was bright blue. Hazel didn’t understand that, but Percy tried it and grinned.
“This makes me happy,” he said. “I don’t know why…but it does.”
Just for a moment, one of the
became visible—an elfin girl in a white silk dress. She giggled as she topped off Percy’s glass, then disappeared in a gust.
The mess hall seemed especially noisy tonight. Laughter echoed off the walls. War banners rustled from cedar ceiling beams as
blew back and forth, keeping everyone’s plates full. The campers dined Roman style, sitting on couches around low tables. Kids were constantly getting up and trading places, spreading rumors about who liked whom and all the other gossip.
As usual, the Fifth Cohort took the place of
honor. Their tables were at the back of the dining hall next to the kitchen. Hazel’s table was always the least crowded. Tonight it was she and Frank, as usual, with Percy and Nico and their centurion Dakota, who sat there, Hazel figured, because he felt obligated to welcome the new recruit.
Dakota reclined glumly on his couch, mixing sugar into his drink and chugging it. He was a beefy guy with curly black hair and eyes that didn’t quite line up straight, so Hazel felt like the world was leaning whenever she looked at him. It wasn’t a good sign that he was drinking so much so early in the night.
“So.” He burped, waving his goblet. “Welcome to the Percy, party.” He frowned. “Party, Percy. Whatever.”
“Um, thanks,” Percy said, but his attention was focused on Nico. “I was wondering if we could talk, you know…about where I might have seen you before.”
“Sure,” Nico said a little too quickly. “The thing is, I spend most of my time in the Underworld. So unless I met you there somehow—”
Dakota belched. “Ambassador from Pluto, they call him. Reyna’s never sure what to do with this guy when he visits.
You should have seen her face when he showed up with Hazel, asking Reyna to take her in. Um, no offense.”
“None taken.” Nico seemed relieved to change the topic. “Dakota was really helpful, standing for Hazel.”
Dakota blushed. “Yeah, well…She seemed like a good kid. Turned out I was right. Last month, when she saved me from, uh, you know.”
“Oh, man!” Frank looked up from his fish and chips. “Percy, you should have seen her! That’s how Hazel got her stripe. The unicorns decided to stampede—”
“It was nothing,” Hazel said.
“Nothing?” Frank protested. “Dakota would’ve gotten trampled! You stood right in front of them, shooed them away, saved his hide. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Hazel bit her lip. She didn’t like to talk about it, and she felt uncomfortable, the way Frank made her sound like a hero. In truth, she’d been mostly afraid that the unicorns would hurt themselves in their panic. Their horns were precious metal—silver and gold—so she’d managed to turn them aside simply by concentrating, steering the animals by their horns and guiding them back to the stables. It had gotten her a full place in the legion, but it had also started rumors about her strange powers—rumors that reminded her of the bad old days.
Percy studied her. Those sea-green eyes made her unsettled.
“Did you and Nico grow up together?” he asked.
“No,” Nico answered for her. “I found out that Hazel was my sister only recently. She’s from New Orleans.”
That was true, of course, but not the whole truth. Nico let people think he’d stumbled upon her in modern New Orleans and brought her to camp. It was easier than telling the real story.
Hazel had tried to pass herself off as a modern kid. It wasn’t easy. Thankfully, demigods didn’t use a lot of technology at camp. Their powers tended to make electronic gadgets go haywire. But the first time she went on furlough to Berkeley, she had nearly had a stroke. Televisions, computers, iPods, the Internet…It made her glad to get back to the world of ghosts, unicorns, and gods. That seemed
less of a fantasy than the twenty-first century.
Nico was still talking about the children of Pluto. “There aren’t many of us,” he said, “so we have to stick together. When I found Hazel—”
“You have other sisters?” Percy asked, almost as if he knew the answer. Hazel wondered again when he and Nico had met, and what her brother was hiding.
“One,” Nico admitted. “But she died. I saw her spirit a few times in the Underworld, except that the last time I went down there...”
To bring her back, Hazel thought, though Nico didn’t say that.
“She was gone.” Nico’s voice turned hoarse. “She used to be in Elysium—like, the Underworld paradise—but she chose to be reborn into a new life. Now I’ll never see her again. I was just lucky to find Hazel…in New Orleans, I mean.”
Dakota grunted. “Unless you believe the rumors. Not saying that I do.”
“Rumors?” Percy asked.
From across the room, Don the faun yelled, “Hazel!”
Hazel had never been so glad to see the faun. He wasn’t allowed in camp, but of course he always managed to get in. He was working his way toward their table, grinning at everybody, sneaking food off plates, and pointing at campers: “Hey! Call me!” A flying pizza smacked him in the head, and he disappeared behind a couch. Then he popped up, still grinning, and made his way over.
“My favorite girl!” He smelled like a wet goat wrapped in old cheese. He leaned over their couches and checked out their food. “Say, new kid, you going to eat that?”
Percy frowned. “Aren’t fauns vegetarian?”
“Not the cheeseburger, man! The plate!” He sniffed Percy’s hair. “Hey…what’s that smell?”
“Don!” Hazel said. “Don’t be rude.”
“No, man, I just—”
Their house god Vitellius shimmered into existence, standing half embedded in Frank’s couch. “Fauns in the dining hall! What are we coming to? Centurion Dakota, do your duty!”
“I am,” Dakota grumbled into his goblet. “I’m having dinner!”
Don was still sniffing around Percy. “Man, you’ve got an empathy link with a faun!”
Percy leaned away from him. “A what?”
“An empathy link! It’s real faint, like somebody’s suppressed it, but—”
“I know what!” Nico stood suddenly. “Hazel, how about we give you and Frank time to get Percy oriented? Dakota and I can visit the praetor’s table. Don and Vitellius, you come too. We can discuss strategies for the war games.”
“Strategies for losing?” Dakota muttered.
“Death Boy is right!” Vitellius said. “This legion fights worse than we did in Judea, and that was the
time we lost our eagle. Why, if
were in charge—”
“Could I just eat the silverware first?” Don asked.
“Let’s go!” Nico stood and grabbed Don and Vitellius by the ears.
Nobody but Nico could actually touch the Lares. Vitellius spluttered with outrage as he was dragged off to the praetor’s table.
“Ow!” Don protested. “Man, watch the ’fro!”
“Come on, Dakota!” Nico called over his shoulder.
The centurion got up reluctantly. He wiped his mouth—uselessly, since it was permanently stained red. “Back soon.” He shook all over, like a dog trying to get dry. Then he staggered away, his goblet sloshing.
“What was that about?” Percy asked. “And what’s wrong with Dakota?”
Frank sighed. “He’s okay. He’s a son of Bacchus, the wine god. He’s got a drinking problem.”
Percy’s eyes widened. “You let him drink
“Gods, no!” Hazel said. “That would be a disaster. He’s addicted to red Kool-Aid. Drinks it with three times the normal sugar, and he’s already ADHD—you know, attention deficit/hyperactive. One of these days, his head is going to explode.”
Percy looked over at the praetor’s table. Most of the senior officers were in deep conversation with Reyna. Nico and his two captives, Don and Vitellius, stood on the periphery. Dakota was running back and forth along a line of stacked shields, banging his goblet on them like they were a xylophone.
“ADHD,” Percy said. “You don’t say.”
Hazel tried not to laugh. “Well…most demigods are. Or dyslexic. Just being a demigod means that our brains are wired differently. Like you—you said you had trouble reading.”
“Are you guys that way too?” Percy asked.
“I don’t know,” Hazel admitted. “Maybe. Back in my day, they just called kids like us ‘lazy.’”
Percy frowned. “Back in
Hazel cursed herself.
Luckily for her, Frank spoke up: “I wish I was ADHD or dyslexic. All I got is lactose intolerance.”
Percy grinned. “Seriously?”
Frank might’ve been the silliest demigod ever, but Hazel thought he was cute when he pouted. His shoulders slumped. “And I love ice cream, too.…”
Percy laughed. Hazel couldn’t help joining in. It was good to sit at dinner and actually feel like she was among friends.
“Okay, so tell me,” Percy said, “why is it bad to be in the Fifth Cohort? You guys are great.”
The compliment made Hazel’s toes tingle. “It’s…complicated. Aside from being Pluto’s kid, I want to ride horses.”
“That’s why you use a cavalry sword?”
She nodded. “It’s stupid, I guess. Wishful thinking. There’s only one pegasus at camp—Reyna’s. The unicorns are just kept for medicine, because the shavings off their horns cure poison and stuff. Anyway, Roman fighting is always done on foot. Cavalry…they kind of look down on that. So they look down on me.”
“Their loss,” Percy said. “What about you, Frank?”
“Archery,” he muttered. “They don’t like that either, unless you’re a child of Apollo. Then you’ve got an excuse. I hope my dad
Apollo, but I don’t know. I can’t do poetry very well. And I’m not sure I want to be related to Octavian.”
“Can’t blame you,” Percy said. “But you’re excellent with the bow—the way you pegged those gorgons? Forget what other people think.”
Frank’s face turned as red as Dakota’s Kool-Aid. “Wish I could. They all think I should be a sword fighter because I’m big and bulky.” He looked down at his body, like he couldn’t quite believe it was his. “They say I’m too stocky for an archer. Maybe if my dad would ever claim me…”
They ate in silence for a few minutes. A dad who wouldn’t claim you…Hazel knew that feeling. She sensed Percy could relate, too.
“You asked about the Fifth,” she said at last. “Why it’s the worst cohort. That actually started way before us.”
She pointed to the back wall, where the legion’s standards were on display. “See the empty pole in the middle?”
“The eagle,” Percy said.
Hazel was stunned. “How’d you know?”
Percy shrugged. “Vitellius was talking about how the legion lost its eagle a long time ago—the
time, he said. He acted like it was a huge disgrace. I’m guessing that’s what’s missing. And from the way you and Reyna were talking earlier, I’m guessing your eagle got lost a second time, more recently, and it had something to do with the Fifth Cohort.”
Hazel made a mental note not to underestimate Percy again. When he’d first arrived, she’d thought he was a little goofy from the questions he’d asked—about the Feast of Tuna and all—but clearly he was smarter than he let on.
“You’re right,” she said. “That’s exactly what happened.”
this eagle, anyway? Why is it a big deal?”
Frank looked around to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “It’s the symbol of the whole camp—a big eagle made of gold. It’s supposed to protect us in battle and make our enemies afraid. Each legion’s eagle gave it all sorts of power, and ours came from Jupiter himself. Supposedly Julius Caesar nicknamed our legion ‘Fulminata’—armed with lightning—because of what the eagle could do.”
“I don’t like lightning,” Percy said.
“Yeah, well,” Hazel said, “it didn’t make us invincible. The Twelfth lost its eagle the first time way back in ancient days, during the Jewish Rebellion.”
“I think I saw a movie like that,” Percy said.
Hazel shrugged. “Could be. There have been lots of books and movies about legions losing their eagles. Unfortunately it happened quite a few times. The eagle was so important…well, archaeologists have
recovered a single eagle from ancient Rome. Each legion guarded theirs to the last man, because it was charged with power from the gods. They’d rather hide it or melt it down than surrender it to an enemy.
The Twelfth was lucky the first time. We got our eagle back. But the second time…”
“You guys were there?” Percy asked.
They both shook their heads.
“I’m almost as new as you.” Frank tapped his
plate. “Just got here last month. But everyone’s heard the story. It’s bad luck to even talk about this. There was this huge expedition to Alaska back in the eighties.…”