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Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune: Chapter 52

Percy

THE NEXT MORNING, PERCY, HAZEL, AND FRANK ate break fast early, then headed into the city before the senate was due to convene. As Percy was a praetor now, he could go pretty much wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

On the way, they passed the stables, where Tyson and Mrs. O’Leary were sleeping in. Tyson snored on a bed of hay next to the unicorns, a blissful look on his face like he was dreaming of ponies. Mrs. O’Leary had rolled on her back and covered her ears with her paws. On the stable roof, Ella roosted in a pile of old Roman scrolls, her head tucked under her wings.

When they got to the forum, they sat by the fountains and watched the sun come up. The citizens were already busy sweeping up cupcake simulations, confetti, and party hats from last night’s celebration. The engineer corps was working on a new arch that would commemorate the victory over Polybotes.

Hazel said she’d even heard talk of a formal triumph for the three of them—a parade around the city followed by a week of games and celebrations—but Percy knew they’d never get the chance. They didn’t have time.

Percy told them about his dream of Juno.

Hazel frowned. “The gods were busy last night. Show him, Frank.”

Frank reached into his coat pocket. Percy thought he might bring out his piece of firewood, but instead he produced a thin paperback book and a note on red stationery.

“These were on my pillow this morning.” He passed them to Percy. “Like the Tooth Fairy visited.”

The book was The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Percy had never heard of it, but he could guess who sent it. The letter read: Good job, kid. A real man’s best weapon is his mind. This was your mom’s favorite book. Give it a read. P.S.I hope your friend Percy has learned some respect for me.

“Wow.” Percy handed back the book. “Maybe Mars is different than Ares. I don’t think Ares can read.”

Frank flipped through the pages. “There’s a lot in hereabout sacrifice, knowing the cost of war. Back in Vancouver, Mars told me I’d have to put my duty ahead of my life or the entire war would go sideways. I thought he meant freeing Thanatos, but now…I don’t know. I’m still alive, so maybe the worst is yet to come.”

He glanced nervously at Percy, and Percy got the feeling Frank wasn’t telling him everything. He wondered if Mars had said something about him, but Percy wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

Besides, Frank had already given enough. He had watched his family home burn down. He’d lost his mother and his grandmother.

“You risked your life,” Percy said. “You were willing to burn up to save the quest. Mars can’t expect more than that.”

“Maybe,” Frank said doubtfully.

Hazel squeezed Frank’s hand.

They seemed more comfortable around each other this morning, not quite as nervous and awkward. Percy wondered if they’d started dating. He hoped so, but he decided it was better not to ask.

“Hazel, how about you?” Percy asked. “Any word from Pluto?”

She looked down. Several diamonds popped out of the ground at her feet. “No,” she admitted. “In a way, I think he sent a message through Thanatos. My name wasn’t on that list of escaped souls. It should have been.”

“You think your dad is giving you a pass?” Percy asked.

Hazel shrugged. “Pluto can’t visit me or even talk to me without acknowledging I’m alive. Then he’d have to enforce the laws of death and have Thanatos bring me back to the Underworld. I think my dad is turning a blind eye. I think—I think he wants me to find Nico.”

Percy glanced at the sunrise, hoping to see a warship descending from the sky. So far, nothing.

“We’ll find your brother,” Percy promised. “As soon as the ship gets here, we’ll sail for Rome.”

Hazel and Frank exchanged uneasy looks, like they’d already talked about this.

“Percy…” Frank said. “If you want us to come along, we’re in. But are you sure? I mean…we know you’ve got tons of friends at the other camp. And you could pick anyone at Camp Jupiter now. If we’re not part of the seven, we’d understand—”

“Are you kidding?” Percy said. “You think I’d leave my team behind? After surviving Fleecy’s wheat germ, running from cannibals, and hiding under blue giant butts in Alaska? Come on!”

The tension broke. All three of them started cracking up, maybe a little too much, but it was a relief to be alive, with the warm sun shining, and not worrying—at least for the moment—about sinister faces appearing in the shadows of the hills.

Hazel took a deep breath. “The prophecy Ella gave us—about the child of wisdom, and the mark of Athena burning through Rome…do you know what that’s about?”

Percy remembered his dream. Juno had warned that Annabeth had a difficult job ahead of her, and that she’d cause trouble for the quest. He couldn’t believe that, but still…it worried him.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I think there’s more to the prophecy. Maybe Ella can remember the rest of it.”

Frank slipped his book into his pocket. “We need to take her with us—I mean, for her own safety. If Octavian finds out Ella has the Sibylline Books memorized…”

Percy shuddered. Octavian used prophecies to keep his power at camp. Now that Percy had taken away his chance at praetor, Octavian would be looking for other ways to exert influence. If he got hold of Ella…

“You’re right,” Percy said. “We’ve got to protect her. I just hope we can convince her—”

“Percy!” Tyson came running across the forum, Ella fluttering behind him with a scroll in her talons. When they reached the fountain, Ella dropped the scroll in Percy’s lap.

“Special delivery,” she said. “From an aura. A wind spirit.

Yes, Ella got a special delivery.”

“Good morning, brothers!” Tyson had hay in his hair and peanut butter in his teeth. “The scroll is from Leo. He is funny and small.”

The scroll looked unremarkable, but when Percy spread it across his lap, a video recording flickered on the parchment. A kid in Greek armor grinned up at them. He had an impish face, curly black hair, and wild eyes, like he’d just had several cups of coffee. He was sitting in a dark room with timber walls like a ship’s cabin. Oil lamps swung back and forth on the ceiling.

Hazel stifled a scream.

“What?” Frank asked. “What’s wrong?”

Slowly, Percy realized the curly-haired kid looked familiar—and not just from his dreams. He’d seen that face in an old photo.

“Hey!” said the guy in the video. “Greetings from your friends at Camp Half-Blood, et cetera. This is Leo. I’m the…” He looked off screen and yelled: “What’s my title? Am I like admiral, or captain, or—”

A girl’s voice yelled back, “Repair boy.”

“Very funny, Piper,” Leo grumbled. He turned back to the parchment screen. “So yeah, I’m … ah … supreme commander of the Argo II. Yeah, I like that! Anyway, we’re gonna be sailing toward you in about, I dunno, an hour in this big mother warship. We’d appreciate it if you’d not, like, blow us out of the sky or anything. So okay! If you could tell the Romans that. See you soon. Yours in demigodishness, and all that. Peace out.”

The parchment turned blank.

“It can’t be,” Hazel said.

“What?” Frank asked. “You know that guy?”

Hazel looked like she’d seen a ghost. Percy understood why. He remembered the photo in Hazel’s abandoned house in Seward. The kid on the warship looked exactly like Hazel’s old boyfriend.

“It’s Sammy Valdez,” she said. “But how…how—”

“It can’t be,” Percy said. “That guy’s name is Leo. And it’s been seventy-something years. It has to be a…”

He wanted to say a coincidence, but he couldn’t make himself believe that. Over the past few years he’d seen a lot of things: destiny, prophecy, magic, monsters, fate. But he’d never yet run across a coincidence.

They were interrupted by horns blowing in the distance. The senators came marching into the forum with Reyna at the lead.

“It’s meeting time,” Percy said. “Come on. We’ve got to warn them about the warship.”

“Why should we trust these Greeks?” Octavian was saying.

He’d been pacing the senate floor for five minutes, going on and on, trying to counter what Percy had told them about Juno’s plan and the Prophecy of Seven.

The senate shifted restlessly, but most of them were too afraid to interrupt Octavian while he was on a roll. Meanwhile the sun climbed in the sky, shining through the broken senate roof and giving Octavian a natural spotlight.

The Senate House was packed. Queen Hylla, Frank, and Hazel sat in the front row with the senators. Veterans and ghosts filled the back rows. Even Tyson and Ella had been allowed to sit in the back. Tyson kept waving and grinning at Percy.

Percy and Reyna occupied matching praetors’ chairs on the dais, which made Percy self-conscious. It wasn’t easy looking dignified wearing a bed sheet and a purple cape.

“The camp is safe,” Octavian continued. “I’ll be the first to congratulate our heroes for bringing back the legion’s eagle and so much Imperial gold! Truly we have been blessed with good fortune. But why do more? Why tempt fate?”

“I’m glad you asked.” Percy stood, taking the question as an opening.

Octavian stammered, “I wasn’t—”

“—part of the quest,” Percy said. “Yes, I know. And you’re wise to let me explain, since I was.”

Some of the senators snickered. Octavian had no choice but to sit down and try not to look embarrassed.

“Gaea is waking,” Percy said. “We’ve defeated two of her giants, but that’s only the beginning. The real war will take place in the old land of the gods. The quest will take us to Rome, and eventually to Greece.”

An uneasy ripple spread through the senate.

“I know, I know,” Percy said. “You’ve always thought of the Greeks as your enemies. And there’s a good reason for that. I think the gods have kept our two camps apart because whenever we meet, we fight. But that can change. It has to change if we’re to defeat Gaea. That’s what the Prophecy of Seven means. Seven demigods, Greek and Roman, will have to close the Doors of Death together.”

“Ha!” shouted a Lar from the back row. “The last time a praetor tried to interpret the Prophecy of Seven, it was Michael Varus, who lost our eagle in Alaska! Why should we believe you now?”

Octavian smiled smugly. Some of his allies in the senate began nodding and grumbling. Even some of the veterans looked uncertain.

“I carried Juno across the Tiber,” Percy reminded them, speaking as firmly as he could. “She told me that the Prophecy of Seven is coming to pass. Mars also appeared to you in person. Do you think two of your most important gods would appear at camp if the situation wasn’t serious?”

“He’s right,” Gwen said from the second row. “I, for one, trust Percy’s word. Greek or not, he restored the honor of the legion. You saw him on the battlefield last night. Would anyone here say he is not a true hero of Rome?”

Nobody argued. A few nodded in agreement.

Reyna stood. Percy watched her anxiously. Her opinion could change everything—for better or worse.

“You claim this is a combined quest,” she said. “You claim Juno intends for us to work with this—this other group, Camp

Half-Blood. Yet the Greeks have been our enemies for eons.

They are known for their deceptions.”

“Maybe so,” Percy said. “But enemies can become friends. A week ago, would you have thought Romans and Amazons would be fighting side by side?”

Queen Hylla laughed. “He’s got a point.”

“The demigods of Camp Half-Blood have already been working with Camp Jupiter,” Percy said. “We just didn’t realize it. During the Titan War last summer, while you were attacking Mount Othrys, we were defending Mount Olympus in Manhattan. I fought Kronos myself.”

Reyna backed up, almost tripping over her toga. “You… what?

“I know it’s hard to believe,” Percy said. “But I think I’ve earned your trust. I’m on your side. Hazel and Frank—I’m sure they’re meant to go with me on this quest. The other four are on their way from Camp Half-Blood right now. One of them is Jason Grace, your old praetor.”

“Oh, come on!” Octavian shouted. “He’s making things up, now.”

Reyna frowned. “It is a lot to believe. Jason is coming back with a bunch of Greek demigods? You say they’re going to appear in the sky in a heavily armed warship, but we shouldn’t be worried.”

“Yes.” Percy looked over the rows of nervous, doubtful spectators. “Just let them land. Hear them out. Jason will backup everything I’m telling you. I swear it on my life.”

“On your life?” Octavian looked meaningfully at the senate. “We will remember that, if this turns out to be a trick.”

Right on cue, a messenger rushed into the Senate House, gasping as if he’d run all the way from camp. “Praetors! I’m sorry to interrupt, but our scouts report—”

“Ship!” Tyson said happily, pointing at the hole in the ceiling. “Yay!

Sure enough, a Greek warship appeared out of the clouds, about a half a mile away, descending toward the Senate House. As it got closer, Percy could see bronze shields glinting along the sides, billowing sails, and a familiar-looking figurehead shaped like a metal dragon. On the tallest mast, a big white flag of truce snapped in the wind.

The Argo II. It was the most incredible ship he’d ever seen.

“Praetors!” the messenger cried. “What are your orders?”

Octavian shot to his feet. “You need to ask?” His face was red with rage. He was strangling his teddy bear. “The omens are horrible! This is a trick, a deception. Beware Greeks bearing gifts!”

He jabbed a finger at Percy. “His friends are attacking in a warship. He has led them here. We must attack!”

“No,” Percy said firmly. “You all raised me as praetor for a reason. I will fight to defend this camp with my life. But these aren’t enemies. I say we stand ready, but do not attack. Let them land. Let them speak. If it is a trick, then I will fight with you, as I did last night. But it is not a trick.”

All eyes turned toward Reyna.

She studied the approaching warship. Her expression hardened. If she vetoed Percy’s orders…well, he didn’t know what would happen. Chaos and confusion, at the very least.

Most likely, the Romans would follow her lead. She’d been their leader much longer than Percy.

“Hold your fire,” Reyna said. “But have the legion stand ready. Percy Jackson is your duly chosen praetor. We will trus this word—unless we are given clear reason not to. Senators, let us adjourn to the forum and meet our…new friends.”

The senators stampeded out of the auditorium—whether from excitement or panic, Percy wasn’t sure. Tyson ran after them, yelling, “Yay! Yay!” with Ella fluttering around his head.

Octavian gave Percy a disgusted look, then threw down his teddy bear and followed the crowd.

Reyna stood at Percy’s shoulder.

“I support you, Percy,” she said. “I trust your judgment. But for all our sakes, I hope we can keep the peace between our campers and your Greek friends.”

“We will,” he promised. “You’ll see.”

She glanced up at the warship. Her expression turned a little wistful. “You say Jason is aboard…I hope that’s true.

I’ve missed him.”

She marched outside, leaving Percy alone with Hazel and Frank.

“They’re coming down right in the forum,” Frank said nervously. “Terminus is going to have a heart attack.”

“Percy,” Hazel said, “you swore on your life. Romans take that seriously. If anything goes wrong, even by accident, Octavian is going to kill you. You know that, right?”

Percy smiled. He knew the stakes were high. He knew this day could go horribly wrong. But he also knew that Annabeth was on that ship. If things went right, this would be the best day of his life.

He threw one arm around Hazel and one arm around Frank.

“Come on,” he said. “Let me introduce you to my other family.”

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