The Mark of Athena

Page 3


  She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to go terribly wrong. And there was no way she would ever risk losing Percy again.

  “We’ll be fine,” she repeated, trying to believe it.

  “Excellent,” Reyna said. She turned to Jason, and Annabeth thought there was a hungry sort of gleam in her eyes. “Let’s talk, and we can have a proper reunion. ”

  Chapter 3

  Annabeth wished she had an appetite, because the Romans knew how to eat.

  Sets of couches and low tables were carted into the forum until it resembled a furniture showroom. Romans lounged in groups of ten or twenty, talking and laughing while wind spirits—aurae—swirled overhead, bringing an endless assortment of pizzas, sandwiches, chips, cold drinks, and fresh-baked cookies. Drifting through the crowd were purple ghosts—Lares—in togas and legionnaire armor. Around the edges of the feast, satyrs (no, fauns, Annabeth thought) trotted from table to table, panhandling for food and spare change. In the nearby fields, the war elephant frolicked with Mrs. O’Leary, and children played tag around the statues of Terminus that lined the city limits.

  The whole scene was so familiar yet so completely alien that it gave Annabeth vertigo.

  All she wanted to do was be with Percy—preferably alone. She knew she would have to wait. If their quest was going to succeed, they needed these Romans, which meant getting to know them and building some goodwill.

  Reyna and a few of her officers (including the blond kid Octavian, freshly back from burning a teddy bear for the gods) sat with Annabeth and her crew. Percy joined them with his two new friends, Frank and Hazel.

  As a tornado of food platters settled onto the table, Percy leaned over and whispered, “I want to show you around New Rome. Just you and me. The place is incredible. ”

  Annabeth should’ve felt thrilled. Just you and me was exactly what she wanted. Instead, resentment swelled in her throat. How could Percy talk so enthusiastically about this place? What about Camp Half-Blood—their camp, their home?

  She tried not to stare at the new marks on Percy’s forearm—an SPQR tattoo like Jason’s. At Camp Half-Blood, demigods got bead necklaces to commemorate years of training. Here, the Romans burned a tattoo into your flesh, as if to say: You belong to us. Permanently.

  She swallowed back some biting comments. “Okay. Sure. ”

  “I’ve been thinking,” he said nervously. “I had this idea—”

  He stopped as Reyna called a toast to friendship.

  After introductions all around, the Romans and Annabeth’s crew began exchanging stories. Jason explained how he’d arrived at Camp Half-Blood without his memory, and how he’d gone on a quest with Piper and Leo to rescue the goddess Hera (or Juno, take your pick—she was equally annoying in Greek or Roman) from imprisonment at the Wolf House in northern California.

  “Impossible!” Octavian broke in. “That’s our most sacred place. If the giants had imprisoned a goddess there—”

  “They would’ve destroyed her,” Piper said. “And blamed it on the Greeks, and started a war between the camps. Now, be quiet and let Jason finish. ”

  Octavian opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Annabeth really loved Piper’s charmspeak. She noticed Reyna looking back and forth between Jason and Piper, her brow creased, as if just beginning to realize the two of them were a couple.

  “So,” Jason continued, “that’s how we found out about the earth goddess Gaea. She’s still half asleep, but she’s the one freeing the monsters from Tartarus and raising the giants. Porphyrion, the big leader dude we fought at the Wolf House: he said he was retreating to the ancient lands—Greece itself. He plans on awakening Gaea and destroying the gods by…what did he call it? Pulling up their roots. ”

  Percy nodded thoughtfully. “Gaea’s been busy over here, too. We had our own encounter with Queen Dirt Face. ”

  Percy recounted his side of the story. He talked about waking up at the Wolf House with no memories except for one name—Annabeth.

  When she heard that, Annabeth had to try hard not to cry. Percy told them how he’d traveled to Alaska with Frank and Hazel—how they’d defeated the giant Alcyoneus, freed the death god Thanatos, and returned with the lost golden eagle standard of the Roman camp to repel an attack by the giants’ army.

  When Percy had finished, Jason whistled appreciatively. “No wonder they made you praetor. ”

  Octavian snorted. “Which means we now have three praetors! The rules clearly state we can only have two!”

  “On the bright side,” Percy said, “both Jason and I outrank you, Octavian. So we can both tell you to shut up. ”

  Octavian turned as purple as a Roman T-shirt. Jason gave Percy a fist bump.

  Even Reyna managed a smile, though her eyes were stormy.

  “We’ll have to figure out the extra praetor problem later,” she said. “Right now we have more serious issues to deal with. ”

  “I’ll step aside for Jason,” Percy said easily. “It’s no biggie. ”

  “No biggie?” Octavian choked. “The praetorship of Rome is no biggie?”

  Percy ignored him and turned to Jason. “You’re Thalia Grace’s brother, huh? Wow. You guys look nothing alike. ”

  “Yeah, I noticed,” Jason said. “Anyway, thanks for helping my camp while I was gone. You did an awesome job. ”

  “Back at you,” Percy said.

  Annabeth kicked his shin. She hated to interrupt a budding bromance, but Reyna was right: they had serious things to discuss. “We should talk about the Great Prophecy. It sounds like the Romans are aware of it too?”

  Reyna nodded. “We call it the Prophecy of Seven. Octavian, you have it committed to memory?”

  “Of course,” he said. “But, Reyna—”

  “Recite it, please. In English, not Latin. ”

  Octavian sighed. “Seven half-bloods shall answer the call. To storm or fire the world must fall—”

  “An oath to keep with a final breath,” Annabeth continued. “And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death. ”

  Everyone stared at her—except for Leo, who had constructed a pinwheel out of aluminum foil taco wrappers and was sticking it into passing wind spirits.

  Annabeth wasn’t sure why she had blurted out the lines of the prophecy. She’d just felt compelled.

  The big kid, Frank, sat forward, staring at her in fascination, as if she’d grown a third eye. “Is it true you’re a child of Min—I mean, Athena?”

  “Yes,” she said, suddenly feeling defensive. “Why is that such a surprise?”

  Octavian scoffed. “If you’re truly a child of the wisdom goddess—”

  “Enough,” Reyna snapped. “Annabeth is what she says. She’s here in peace. Besides…” She gave Annabeth a look of grudging respect. “Percy has spoken highly of you. ”

  The undertones in Reyna’s voice took Annabeth a moment to decipher. Percy looked down, suddenly interested in his cheeseburger.

  Annabeth’s face felt hot. Oh, gods…Reyna had tried to make a move on Percy. That explained the tinge of bitterness, maybe even envy, in her words. Percy had turned her down for Annabeth.

  At that moment, Annabeth forgave her ridiculous boyfriend for everything he’d ever done wrong. She wanted to throw her arms around him, but she commanded herself to stay cool.

  “Uh, thanks,” she told Reyna. “At any rate, some of the prophecy is becoming clear. Foes bearing arms to the Doors of Death…that means Romans and Greeks. We have to combine forces to find those doors. ”

  Hazel, the girl with the cavalry helmet and the long curly hair, picked up something next to her plate. It looked like a large ruby; but before Annabeth could be sure, Hazel slipped it into the pocket of her denim shirt.

  “My brother, Nico, went looking for the doors,” she said.

  “Wait,” Annabeth said. “Nico di Angelo? He’s your brother?”

  Hazel nodded as if this were obvious. A dozen more questions c
rowded into Annabeth’s head, but it was already spinning like Leo’s pinwheel. She decided to let the matter go. “Okay. You were saying?”

  “He disappeared. ” Hazel moistened her lips. “I’m afraid…I’m not sure, but I think something’s happened to him. ”

  “We’ll look for him,” Percy promised. “We have to find the Doors of Death anyway. Thanatos told us we’d find both answers in Rome—like, the original Rome. That’s on the way to Greece, right?”

  “Thanatos told you this?” Annabeth tried to wrap her mind around that idea. “The death god?”

  She’d met many gods. She’d even been to the Underworld; but Percy’s story about freeing the incarnation of death itself really creeped her out.

  Percy took a bite of his burger. “Now that Death is free, monsters will disintegrate and return to Tartarus again like they used to. But as long as the Doors of Death are open, they’ll just keep coming back. ”

  Piper twisted the feather in her hair. “Like water leaking through a dam,” she suggested.

  “Yeah. ” Percy smiled. “We’ve got a dam hole. ”

  “What?” Piper asked.

  “Nothing,” he said. “Inside joke. The point is we’ll have to find the doors and close them before we can head to Greece. It’s the only way we’ll stand a chance of defeating the giants and making sure they stay defeated. ”

  Reyna plucked an apple from a passing fruit tray. She turned it in her fingers, studying the dark red surface. “You propose an expedition to Greece in your warship. You do realize that the ancient lands—and the Mare Nostrum—are dangerous?”

  “Mary who?” Leo asked.

  “Mare Nostrum,” Jason explained. “Our Sea. It’s what the Ancient Romans called the Mediterranean. ”

  Reyna nodded. “The territory that was once the Roman Empire is not only the birthplace of the gods. It’s also the ancestral home of the monsters, Titans and giants…and worse things. As dangerous as travel is for demigods here in America, there it would be ten times worse. ”

  “You said Alaska would be bad,” Percy reminded her. “We survived that. ”

  Reyna shook her head. Her fingernails cut little crescents into the apple as she turned it. “Percy, traveling in the Mediterranean is a different level of danger altogether. It’s been off limits to Roman demigods for centuries. No hero in his right mind would go there. ”

  “Then we’re good!” Leo grinned over the top of his pinwheel. “Because we’re all crazy, right? Besides, the Argo II is a top-of-the-line warship. She’ll get us through. ”

  “We’ll have to hurry,” Jason added. “I don’t know exactly what the giants are planning, but Gaea is growing more conscious all the time. She’s invading dreams, appearing in weird places, summoning more and more powerful monsters. We have to stop the giants before they can wake her up fully. ”

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