This chapter isn't very eventful, but I wanted to update as soon as I could! I promise we're getting to the exciting bits, and that we'll get to see how the quest plays out with god!Percy at its helm. Until then, please read, review and enjoy :)
As it turns out, what Frank wanted to do was go get some sleep.
The rest of the camp was already filing off to bed, still murmuring about their eventful day; Reyna paused in front of me like she intended to say something, but stopped at the last second and settled for giving me a serious nod. I nodded back. Then, as I watched her leave, I started wondering where praetors went to sleep. Did Reyna have a whole cabin to herself, like I did? Maybe she just slept on top of her chair in the principia. Was there a bathroom in there?
"Percy," said Frank, drawing me out of my thoughts. Right. It wasn't really my business where Reyna went to sleep, anyway. "Are you…going to go?"
Looking around, I realized how late it had gotten without my noticing. As much as the campers here respected me, I didn't want to impose myself on them by sleeping in one of their cabins. "Yeah, I think I will."
Frank hesitated. "But you'll come back?"
He was trying to hide it, but I could tell how scared he was; it dawned on me that this was his first quest, and a dangerous one, whereas I'd been on way more quests than I wanted to think about. I had a feeling that this one could be important, and looking at Frank's baby face, I couldn't say no to him. "I'll be back," I promised. "We'll go free Death tomorrow and be back in time for dinner."
"I don't think that's how quests work," he ventured.
"Me neither, but I sure wish it was." I clapped him on the back and watched him head off to his cabin. The rest of the Fifth Cohort was a ways ahead, but Frank caught up with them quickly and joined Hazel at their rear as the others automatically made space for him in their ranks. What was it like to be in a group like that, full of people you lived and fought and maybe even died with? As much as I loved Camp Half-Blood, I still sometimes felt like a loner there. It was better than school, where I was always branded a troublemaker or just a lousy student, but I was still the only Poseidon kid in my cabin. And watching Frank's cohort go off to bed, I knew I couldn't really belong with them either. But then who was I ever going to fit in with? The gods? I wasn't an Olympian, which was mostly a relief. All the other minor gods I'd met had been around for millennia. I was just…me. Percy Jackson. Being a god hadn't changed that, for better or for worse.
Suddenly, I understood what Reyna was going through, and felt a tug of admiration for how strongly she led the Romans, despite having to do it on her own. Her architects had done an impressive job with the fortress I could still see across the field, and the battle prowess of the other Romans was well documented by the crags and gaps in the dirt that looked wholly different when illuminated by the moonlight. Camp Jupiter was far different from Camp Half-Blood, and although I was a Greek demigod—well, not a demigod anymore—through and through, I was beginning to like Camp Jupiter.
But with Gaea's threat looming in my mind, I wasn't sure if I was going to make it back to Camp Half-Blood at all.
Maybe my thoughts had turned me a little paranoid, because instead of teleporting myself to London or Paris to see the sights, like I could have, I decided to go back to the familiarity of the Poseidon cabin and see if I could catch a few hours of sleep. That is, if gods could sleep. I didn't have that part figured out yet. But even if I didn't, I could always go for a stroll in the forest, or burn off some energy by going swimming. My plan was to sneak into camp and then sneak out before anyone noticed I was there.
My plan was immediately foiled when I appeared in the middle of my cabin to be greeted by none other than Annabeth sitting at the edge of my bed. "Percy?" she said in disbelief. Despite the late hour, she looked as beautiful and put-together as she always did, and the sight of her stunned me into silence as she got to her feet. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" I asked, finding my voice. As far as I knew, campers had always been allowed to enter other cabins, but I couldn't remember the last time Annabeth had visited mine. Not to mention, sat on my bed.
"I…" She shook her head, a few blond curls escaping her ponytail as she did. "I missed you."
Peeking into her loyalties, I saw that hers to me hadn't changed much, not over the—had it really been only a day?—since she'd told me she still loved me. I wasn't entirely sure if I could look at my own loyalties, but I had a feeling that if I could, mine to her would be the same, too. We'd fought before. I just couldn't tell why this fight seemed different.
"I didn't think you'd come back for a while," said Annabeth. "Godly duties, and all."
"This might be the last time we see each other for a while. I've got…a quest."
"A quest?" Annabeth repeated, her voice sharpening with interest. "Where? Who gave it to you?"
That was when I remembered that she didn't know about the Romans. Was I allowed to tell her? Probably. Aside from maybe Clarisse, or Nico, Annabeth was the best secret-keeper I knew. So I told her about the day I'd had at Camp Jupiter, including as much as I could remember about the architecture.
"It sounds beautiful," Annabeth said when I'd finished, and when she'd finished gushing excitedly about the existence of Roman demigods. "Well, not the people. The temples. And that city you were talking about, a place just for demigods—I've never heard of anything like it."
She sounded as wistful as I felt. "Yeah," I said softly. "I was thinking, when I saw it, that you and me, someday…"
"You're a god now, Percy," said Annabeth gently. "Greek gods don't make a habit of settling down with demigods in Roman cities."
"I'm not an Olympian or anything," I protested, even as my heart sank. As much as I hated to think about it, Annabeth was right. We couldn't have a future like that anymore.
But it didn't change how much I cared about her.
Maybe Annabeth saw something in the look on my face, because her expression softened, and she said, "I'm not saying we can't do anything together, Percy. It'll just have to be different now. You know that." She reached over and punched me lightly on the shoulder. "You'd better come back from Alaska alive, or I'll kill you."
I couldn't help smiling. "You got it, Wise Girl. Do I get a kiss for good luck?"
"You're a god, Seaweed Brain, I don't think you need good luck," she teased.
"Everybody needs good luck," I said, and gave her my best impression of puppy-dog eyes.
For a moment Annabeth's face remained inscrutable, giving me the calculating look that I knew and loved, and then she leaned in to plant a tiny kiss on my lips. "There's your kiss," she said, drawing back. "Good luck. Those Romans are lucky to have you."
"You should meet them sometime," I said, and then thought about the prophecy and amended my words. "Actually, I think you will."
"I'll look forward to it." Annabeth gave me a small smile that still made me feel like I was walking on the moon. "See you."
It was less of a goodbye and more of a promise, a promise that I intended to keep; after all, a million monsters hadn't managed to come between the two of us. What was a couple more giants?
As Annabeth made her way to the door, I realized I still hadn't told her about Gaea, and I almost called out for her to wait. I almost told her about the Earth Mother's words, her threat that I would be just the next well-meaning hero to die on her face.
But when I finally did say her name, she was already in the doorway, and I couldn't bring myself to burden her with the story of Gaea. Not when she was framed in the moonlight shimmering through the stormy clouds. Not when she already had a cabin to look after, and a relationship with a really dumb demigod-turned-god to think about. So the only thing I ended up saying was, "Good night."
"Night, Percy," she said, and went back to her cabin.
Later that night, I did indeed fall asleep, the sound of her voice playing over and over in my ears.
When I woke up, I knew that it was almost nine in the morning, and I also knew that it was time for me to get back to Camp Jupiter. At least I felt like I'd gotten enough sleep, whatever that meant for a god, and I felt almost merry as I summoned an image of Frank in my head and told myself to get where he was.
The walls of the cabin melted away, and I found myself standing just outside Camp Jupiter and right next to a very startled Frank Zhang.
"Percy!" he yelped. "You came!"
"Of course," I said. "Where are we? No, wait, better question: where are we going?"
"To the Senate meeting." That was Hazel, on Frank's other side, who nodded at me in greeting. "You don't have any weapons on you, do you?"
"Only my sword," I replied, frowning as I checked my pockets for rogue AK-47s, just in case. Thankfully, there weren't any. "Why? Are we not allowed weapons in the meeting?"
"Not past the Pomerian line," Frank said. "The city's a sacred kind of safe zone, so the meetings don't get bloody."
"Like what happened to Julius Caesar?" I asked.
"Yeah, but we haven't had an accident like that in months," Hazel put in helpfully. I decided not to ask whether she was joking or not.
As we neared the city, the people walking in front of us started slowing down, and we approached a statue of a muscular guy and curly hair who looked seriously annoyed to be there. It would have been a life-size statue if he hadn't been a block of marble from the waist down, or if he'd had any arms. Now that I thought about it, I'd probably be annoyed too if I didn't have arms.
The statue began speaking. That didn't even make it into my top ten list of weirdest things I'd seen. Maybe top fifty. "Single file, please!" the statue was saying. The straggly line of Romans obediently straightened out, and the statue said, "Have your IDs ready!"
"I don't have an ID," I whispered to Frank.
"I don't think you need one," he whispered back.
We were the last ones in line, and the statue gave me a once-over. "Another god, eh? What business do you have in a Roman senate meeting?"
"I'm Percy Jackson," I said, which was not a very helpful explanation. "I'm going on a quest with Frank and Hazel."
"A quest!" The god looked faintly nostalgic. "Ah, to be young and on a quest. Is that a weapon in your pocket? Take it out!"
"Lord Percy, this is Terminus," said Hazel, since the god didn't seem to be making any introductions of his own. "God of boundaries."
"You're certainly right about that, young lady. Percy, is it? Put that weapon with the other dangerous items. Where's that tray? Julia!"
A little girl with dark brown pigtails and an adorable pink dress peeked her head out from behind the statue, holding a tray that was littered with non-threatening-looking items like an oversized container of sunscreen. Then I peered closer and realized Terminus was right. There were a few paring knives on the tray that, to my godly eyes, shone with a dark and unforgiving light, and I was pretty sure the sunscreen bottle wasn't going to protect my skin very much if I tried to put it on. I dutifully put Riptide beside it, and Terminus said delightedly, "Very good! Now, remember to keep the peace inside the line, or else I'll make you measure every blade of grass in the valley!"
On that pleasant note, Terminus let us pass, and I muttered to Frank and Hazel, "Is he always like that?"
"Worse, usually," said Hazel. "But I'm glad he's on our side."
I pictured Terminus forcing invading giants to get down on their knees to measure blades of grass and fought a smile. "Right. Should we catch up to the others?"
"Probably," Hazel said, and the conversation lulled as we speed-walked ahead. I could have teleported us there, but I had to admit it was nice to see the city up close; like in camp itself, the white and gray tiles beneath our feet were polished to perfection, but here there were honeysuckle and roses twining up from nearby gardens to add a splash of color. A mother was tending to one of the gardens as her son toddled around in sandals and a T-shirt. Across the street, a few college-age kids were eating sandwiches and gesturing as they joked with each other; next to them, a row of neat shopfronts were bustling with activity as their owners set them up for the day. The tops of the buildings shone gold in the sunlight, and in the distance, the outline of the coliseum and another huge arena rose up above the houses.
"Are all these people demigods?" I asked as we passed another gaggle of laughing college kids.
"Or descended from them," said Hazel. "Like we said, this is kind of a safe space for people to grow up, go to college, and not have to worry about monsters."
I made a mental promise that even if I didn't get to live here with Annabeth one day, we'd have to come and visit—if only to get a cone from a delectable-looking ice cream store we passed on our way to the meeting. But all too soon, we were approaching a huge, white-domed building, and although Frank cast Hazel and I an anxious look, he still squared his shoulders and led the way inside.
As impressive as the interior was, it wasn't half as nice as the other buildings I'd seen in New Rome. A semicircle of tiered seats faced a raised dais in the center of the room, on which stood a simple podium and two chairs on either side of it. I followed Frank and Hazel to the left side of the semicircle, below some dozing ghosts and a few older people in togas that I guessed were from the city. The other senators, and Nico, sat in the front row, and Reyna strode up to the podium to speak. Octavian scurried to stand beside her, with a knife and a Beanie Baby. "Right," said Reyna as the senators obediently got to their feet. "This is an emergency meeting, so there's no need to stand on formalities."
Everyone sat down, and one of the ghosts behind me said, "But I love formalities!"
"First of all," Reyna continued crossly, "we're not here to vote on the quest itself. We will obey the wishes of Mars Ultor. Neither are we here to vote on Frank Zhang's choice of companions."
"Frank can't lead a quest," one of the senators objected. "He's still on probatio! Quests have to led by someone who's a centurion, or higher!"
Frank practically shrank into his seat beside me, and that was not going to fly. I got to my feet and said, "Do you have a problem with that?"
The increasing volume of the room immediately quieted, and I took a moment to enjoy the silence. "I don't want to step on your toes, Praetor," I said, nodding to Reyna. She didn't look thrilled that I was interrupting, but she didn't stop me, either. "And I know that something really bad happened to the Fifth Cohort last time they tried to interpret a prophecy like this."
The crowd started muttering, but I held my ground. "But Mars is sending two members of the Fifth again for a reason. This is the cohort's chance to redeem itself."
"The Fifth can't be redeemed," someone hissed from the front row.
"If you're so sure of that," I said, "why not let them try it?"
Surprisingly, Octavian was the one who spoke next. "Silence," he said. "Lord Percy is right. Our praetor recognizes that this quest, issued by Mars Ultor, must be led by Frank Zhang, and she also knows that such a quest cannot be led by someone still on probatio. For good or ill, Frank must be made centurion."
I irritably tugged at Octavian's loyalties a bit, even as I said, "Frank Zhang is a brave warrior, and he fought well on the battlefield last night. He deserves this honor."
The good thing about being a god was that no one challenged me, and I did a brief scan of the loyalties in the room. Interestingly, I could faintly see the loyalties of the ghosts, but judging from the humans alone, a few people were looking more loyal to Frank than they had been. Well, good. He'd need all the support he could get.
I sat down to let Octavian make Frank a centurion, and I was proud of the way Frank looked him dead in the eye and steadily pledged his life to Rome's service. No one was outwardly objecting to him anymore, and it seemed to be a much-needed confidence boost. After the ordeal was over with, Hazel and I quietly congratulated Frank, and Reyna started discussing the quest itself.
"Centurion Zhang," said Octavian, sounding like he was trying not to choke on a worm. "Do you know where, exactly, you are headed on your quest?"
"Alaska," said Frank, lifting his chin.
The effect was immediate. Reyna's metal dogs rolled over and whimpered, and several of the ghosts flickered and disappeared. Finally, one of the senators got to his feet. "I know what Mars said, but that's crazy. Alaska's cursed! It's so far north that the gods don't even have power there. You could die."
More murmuring. Reyna raised a hand for silence. "That is a risk that must be taken, Senator Larry. Nevertheless, it doesn't bode well to set off on such a quest with no idea where you're going, and less than a week until the Feast of Fortuna. Who exactly are you looking for?"
Hazel stood. "I have a pretty good idea. The giant's name is Alcyoneus."
Several people shivered, and Reyna's face darkened. "How do you know this, Hazel? Because you're a daughter of Pluto?"
Nico, wearing a black toga, stood next. "Praetor, if I may…Hazel and I learned things about the giants from our father. Each giant was specifically intended to oppose a specific god. Alcyoneus was born to fight against Pluto. That's why we know about him. Traditionally, the only known way to defeat the giants is for gods and demigods to fight together."
Dakota belched, and almost spilled the contents of the flask he was holding. From this distance, I couldn't tell if it was wine or Kool-Aid. "Sorry, did you say gods and demigods fighting together? That's never going to happen!"
All eyes turned to me, and I realized what Nico was getting at. "It has, in the past," I said. "Maybe that's why Mars wants me on this quest."
"Lord Percy, that's not all," said Nico. "Alcyoneus isn't like the other giants. Gods or not, he can't be killed inside his homeland. So that means…"
"He can't be killed in Alaska," Hazel finished. "That's why the 1980 expedition was doomed to fail."
The room erupted in yells of disbelief, and several people called out that our quest must be doomed, too. "Guys," I said, and the noise reluctantly quieted. "I'm a god, in case you forgot." As much as I sometimes forgot that fact myself, it was nice to be able to use it. "I survived a lot of quests as a demigod. We'll be fine."
"If you say so," Octavian muttered.
Reyna's hands tightened on the edge of her podium, but all she said aloud was, "Then all that remains is to vote on what assistance we will provide the questers—magic, transportation, weapons."
"I vote that we provide them nothing," said Octavian. "With a god on their side, who will surely prevail over any danger, the questers' safety will be assured."
I heard the words behind his words: if we didn't make it, the blame would solely rest on my shoulders. Hadn't I made Octavian more loyal to me? Why was he doing this?
I took a careful look at his loyalties, and my heart sank. When I had first made my appearance, Octavian apparently hadn't believed that I was a god at all, and that I might even have been some kind of monster sent as a test; by strengthening his loyalties, all I'd done was prove that I was most definitely a god, and therefore most definitely a threat.
Great. Now the weird, scrawny blond kid was a potential enemy.
Even Reyna looked a little nonplussed at the sleazy confidence in Octavian's voice. "Are you proposing that we provide absolutely no assistance on this quest? That seems—"
"Traditional," Octavian interrupted. "Very traditional! Very Roman! Call a vote. Let's see whether the questers can survive on their own."
The senators shifted and whispered, but none of them spoke up. Reyna's voice was tight when she said, "Very well. It is highly unusual for a minor god to accompany Roman demigods on a quest, but I suppose these aren't normal times. Who votes that the three questers are provided no assistance whatsoever, beyond what they are able to procure with their own wits?"
Almost all of the senators raised their hands, and Reyna said, again, "Very well. Frank, Hazel, you may leave. I would discuss a few matters with the Senate. And, Octavian—" She cast the augur a steely look. "Stay behind for a moment afterwards."
Next, Reyna glanced at me, like I was the third item on her People to Get Rid Of Now list and she was just too polite to say it. "Come on," I said to Hazel and Frank. "We'd better wait outside."
The Romans were silent as they followed me into the sunlight; I was a little surprised at how easily my eyes adjusted to the brightness of the outdoors after how dark the senate building had been, and Frank raised one hand to shade his eyes as he peered back the way we'd come. "Well, that was a disaster," he said.
"How could Octavian do that?" Hazel kicked angrily at a rock and sent it flying into the distance. I briefly felt sympathetic for its plight. "Just because Mars Ultor assigned this quest doesn't mean we should be sent off with nothing!"
"At least we have Percy," said Frank, giving me a respectful nod.
"And we'll kick the quest's butt," I jumped in. "Octavian was a jerk back there, though. I agree."
"He shouldn't even be in Camp Jupiter," Hazel said furiously.
A new voice said, "Who?"
We all turned to see none other than the devil himself walking up to us, in the form of a blond boy holding a teddy bear. "I'll show him," said Hazel, advancing dangerously on Octavian. Frank and I simultaneously threw out a hand to stop her from mauling the augur to shreds.
"Now, now," said Octavian placatingly. "I bring a message from Reyna that you may want to hear."
"Then spit it out," I said.
Octavian gave me a measured look that said he would be insulting me, if the situation had been different. "The praetor wishes to see you in the praetoria…Lord Percy."
"I'll be there," I said. "Thanks."
Octavian didn't move. "Doesn't it anger you at all, my lord, that you've been assigned to follow a minor quest with a few rather minor companions? After a past like yours, don't you deserve a little rest? Or at least some recognition from the gods?"
"You don't know anything about my past," I said, dangerously close to punching him in the face. "And if Hazel and Frank are minor, then you must be a pile of dirt."
Octavian gave a jaunty little bow. "I think there are more pressing piles of dirt to deal with," he said. "Don't you think?"
"Trust me," I said, and looked him dead in the eye. "You don't want to make me an enemy."
It didn't sit well with me to act like a bully, but Octavian deserved it, and it was actually pretty satisfying to see him gulp and turn away. "I hate him," Hazel muttered as soon as he was out of earshot. "If he didn't—" She seemed to catch herself, and restarted her sentence. "If he wasn't the augur, I'd…"
"But he is," Frank said grimly. "He's got a lot of power with the Senate."
"At least Reyna doesn't give in to him. And speaking of Reyna, Lord Percy, shouldn't you be going to see her?"
"Oh, right." To be honest, I'd almost forgotten what Octavian had come to bother us about in the first place. "Wait for me here?"
"We can go get packed for the quest," Frank suggested. "I've got the feeling that the faster we get this started, the better."
Hazel nodded in emphatic agreement, and I couldn't help but smile at the way her hand brushed Frank's as they turned to leave. Then, of course, both of them pulled back so fast that they could have been struck by lightning, but everybody had to start somewhere. Besides, they were great people, and they'd make a great couple. I was rooting for them.
I could only hope that Reyna was rooting for us, too, as I teleported into the principia.