Kelly knew the new guy was trouble the minute she laid eyes on him. The gorgons chasing him were the first hint then Juno sealed the deal by naming him a son of Neptune. Great, just great, the last descendant of Neptune to join the Legion had demolished their camp and the city of San Francisco. Reyna seemed equally thrilled as she ordered everybody back to their duties and took the new guy and Hazel of the Fifth into the Principia.
"That was impressive," Vicki said as they disappeared from view.
"He's Neptune's, that means trouble," Kelly answered.
"We already got trouble," her second pointed out.
"Exactly, we don't need more!" Kelly turned on her heel and headed down the via Praetoria and past Bombilo's to the Fourth Cohort's block of barracks with Vicki trailing behind her.
Things had been going steadily downhill ever since Jason's disappearance. Damn the Fifth and their thrice damned curse! First Jason was just gone – from the middle of camp yet – then every set of searchers also vanished without a trace so now the legion was down one praetor, a tribune, five centurions and an even dozen other ranks, losses they could ill afford with monster attacks increasing and not staying dead once killed. Something very bad was going down, worse even than Saturn's war, and the legion was understrength and out of luck – and to top it all off there were fauns on the porch!
Kelly came to a full stop both physically and metaphorically. The barrack facing onto the via Praetoria was fronted by a long porch under a red tiled roof supported by wooden posts carved to look like doric columns. A row of standards hung from the eaves: two were scarlet, emblazoned with the lightning bolt of the XIIth Legion and the horse of the Fourth Cohort, and one was blue and embroidered with a golden Roman numeral one above the cohort motto: Grasso, Planto Nostrum Dies*. Three fauns crouched on their shaggy haunches under the proud banners, tails to the street, curly mops bent intently over something on the ground between them. Kelly glared, inhaled and roared "Felix!"
A head as dark and curly as any faun's bobbed up to show his tribune a pair of faux-innocent eyes. "What? Gambling isn't against regs as long as it isn't for money."
"No. Fauns. In. Camp." Kelly grated between clenched teeth.
"But nobody else will play against me," Felix whined as the fauns in question cowered behind him. "They're not bothering anybody."
"They're bothering me!"
Felix looked at Vicki, found no support there, and sighed. "Okay, okay. Keep your hair on, Kel." He turned to the fauns, "Guess you guys better go. Here," he bent to scoop up a double handful of the reeses pieces that had been serving as stakes, and handed them out, "for your trouble."
"Gee, thanks man!"
"Yeah, chocolate yum!"
"You're the best, Felix." The fauns made a big circle around Kelly and trotted off down the via Praetoria to the gates.
"What put the pilum up your podex?" Felix grumbled following the two girls into Kelly's office.
It was the largest room in the barracks decorated with color blocked walls beneath high set, grated windows and furnished with racks of training weapons and two desks, one for Kelly and one for her Decuranus Pompey Liberanus. Voices through the open back door told the three officers he was currently on the training ground behind the barracks making some legionaries lives miserable with a punishment drill.
Kelly sat down behind her desk as Vicki stared at Felix disbelievingly. "Don't tell me you missed all the excitement!"
"I was busy. So what was all the yelling about?"
"Oh nothing much, just a son of Neptune chased by two gorgons and Juno Moneta in person," Vicki answered rolling her eyes.
"Wow, really?" For a minute Felix only looked interested, then the other sandal dropped. "Wait, Neptune? Like the guy who caused the 1908 earthquake?"
"You got it."
He turned to Kelly. "No wonder you're so grumpy."
She swept up the loose papers littering the marble top of her desk and slapped them into her outbox. "The last thing we need around here is more bad luck!"
"Yeah, but if Juno brought him maybe he'll be good luck," Felix countered.
"I hate to say it but Felix has got a point there," Vicki put in. "Juno is on our side she wouldn't bring a threat into the valley."
"She might if she wants us to dispose of him like Reyna said."
"Possible," Vicki conceded.
"Reyna'll take care of it, she's solid," Felix said.
"Yeah, but she's not lucky," Kelly snapped back. "Jason was our luck, and he's gone."
"He'll be back," Felix said confidently, "Remember how we all gave him up when he went off to fight the sea serpent? He came back from that, he'll come back from this. Jason's one of my mom's favorites. Nothing can beat him." Felix's mom was Fortuna, goddess of luck, both good and bad. "Ten denarii say he'll be back for the feast.
"We better hope he is," Kelly muttered to her desktop. She was one of the few who knew about the attack augured for that day. Not even Octavian was about to spread that news - luckily panic wouldn't further his ends.
"I'll take that bet," Vicki said, not hearing the mutter. Felix and Kelly both looked at her in surprise and she shrugged. "I wanna lose."
Felix usually won bets. Usually, not always, Fortune was fickle even towards her own son. That was why only fauns would gamble with him. He didn't lose often enough to make it worth anybody else's while.
The officers of the Fourth got a second glimpse of the legion's newest recruit while crossing the via Praetoria to the baths. He was following Hazel Levesque gatewards with an espresso in one hand and a muffin in the other, gulping and gobbling like he hadn't eaten in a week.
"Looks like he's had a rough time," Pompey Liberanus commented taking his first look at the son of Neptune.
"Don't we all," Kelly answered but she couldn't help feeling a niggle of sympathy. Her trip to camp had been a complete nightmare. The stronger you are the more monsters you attract. Rome worshipped Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, the deified Romulus Founder of Rome, as its 'big three' and had little time for Neptune but his children had to be pretty strong.
The four of them split up when they got to the baths the two boys, Felix and Pompey, heading for the far door while Kelly and Vicki went in the near one. 'Luxurious' didn't even begin to describe the baths of Camp Jupiter which had been decorated and redecorated by generations of Veterans. The lockers in the dressing room were an endless row of miniature marble temple fronts with copper-gilt doors and heavy marble benches underneath. The floor mosaics were in pink and blue and white and gold and the vaulted ceiling painted with flitting aurae in cloudy white robes. The girls, accustomed and indifferent to all the splendor, undressed stuffing their clothes into lockers with dirty boots put carelessly on top then walked through the open arch into the frigidarium.
The big room wasn't really cold, only the water in the big pool at one end deserved to be called frigid, but its walls of greeny-white marble and floor of blue glass like clear water over an elaborate mosaic of sea life made it look and feel cooler than it was. The room echoed with the splashes and shrieks of the girls in the pool while others toweled themselves briskly and combed out each other's hair.
"So, what'll it be?" Vicki asked, "The laconium and a plunge in the cold pool or the whole treatment?"
"The whole treatment," Kelly answered and led the way across the frigidarium towards the big bronze doors to the next room, past clusters of marble couches where yet more girls reclined draped in towels, downing tall glasses of Gatorade and nibbling chips and trail mix while they gossiped and played board games.
On the other side of the doors was the tepidarium heated to comfortable warmth for bare skin. It was slightly smaller than the frigidarium and much quieter with only the muffled grunts of girls getting massages from the Lymphae* and dreamy fragments of conversation from other girls waiting their turn to break the warm silence. This room was wainscoted in purplish-red porphyry and green jasper beneath frescoes of palm trees and tropical greenery divided by pilasters of yellow marble. The shower stalls were yellow marble too, the water tepidly warm. Kelly and Vicki rinsed off the dust and sweat before proceeding through the next pair of bronze doors to the caldarium.
Caldarium meant hot and it was very hot in the red marble room decorated with moldings and medallions of milky chalcedony and a gold plated ceiling reflecting the light from small, high windows. Steam rose from the round spa at the curved end of the room and the big soaking pool at the square end, and drifts of bubbles overflowed the porphyry tubs along the sides. Spa and tubs were full but only a few girls were soaking in the big pool and most of them were gathered at one end leaving the other to Reyna the praetor and Cornelia Priscilla, presently the commanding – indeed only centurion of the Second.
Kelly slid into the scalding water as a good Roman should – without hesitation and without allowing a sound to escape her. After the first agonizing seconds her pores expanded to let the heat in and the pain faded. "I saw the son of Neptune on his way to the praetorian gate," she remarked to Reyna, as soon as she could speak without gasping.
"I sent him to get an augury," the praetor answered, eyes closed and head leaned back against the rounded edge of the tub.
Vicki snorted. "You mean you left it to Octavian. I'll never understand why Lupa didn't eat that little mentula*."
"Octavian's a mentula," Kelly agreed. "But credit where it's due – he's not weak."
"And he's honest in his auguries if nothing else," Reyna added.
"You do know him, don't you?"
Reyna opened her eyes to give Kelly a look of fake surprise. "Of course I know Octavian."
"I mean this Percy Jackson," Kelly snapped back. "Where'd you meet him?"
Reyna sighed, "On Circe's island. It was he and his companion Annabeth who destroyed the spa."
Vicki perked up, "An enemy then?"
Reyna grimaced. "Well, to be fair, Circe did turn him into a guinea pig."
Kelly smirked. "That would annoy anyone."
Vicki frowned. "How in the gods' names could a guinea pig destroy Circe's spa?"
"The girl, Annabeth, turned him back, I don't know how exactly." Reyna lifted cupped hands to splash water on her face. "I guess I should be grateful. If it weren't for him and his friend I'd still be a glorified bath attendant giving herbal facials."
"And we'd be out two praetors instead of one," Kelly added. "So who is he? Where did he and his girlfriend come from?"
"I don't know," Reyna answered quietly. "All I know is they had weapons of Celestial Bronze and had been trained to use them by – someone."
"Graecus," Vicki hissed on an indrawn breath.
Kelly winced. She hated that word. She's been 'graecus' to the whole camp when she'd first come with her purple eyes and silver blond hair marking her as Perseid, descended from the Perseus who slew Medusa. Kelly even had his sword Gorgophone – gorgon slayer. The fact that the Perseids had been citizens of Rome for two thousand years hadn't counted for much, or even the fact that Kelly was great-granddaughter of Mars Ultor, that most Roman of gods. At least not until she'd gone on her quest and won back the Ancila, the shield buckler of Mars, and been chosen as his priest.
"Sorry," said Vicki.
"S'okay," Kelly muttered, embarrassed, then went on to Reyna; "You mean Octavian is right, there are still Greek demigods?"
"I don't know," said Reyna.
"Yes," said Cornelia, who'd been lounging back against the sloping side of the pool, apparently asleep, this whole time. "Yes but Octavian is wrong too. They're on the gods' side they fought for Olympus in Saturn's war and they certainly won't side with Gaea now.
The other three girls stared at her then Reyna's eyes narrowed. "And you know this how, centurion?"
"From Guy," Cornelia answered matter-of-factly. "He and Marcia and Sophie met three of them on their quest to kill Echidna and her brood. According to Guy they'd have failed without the Greeks' help. He said they have their own camp where they train under Chiron the Centaur and they honor the gods by their Greek names."
"Why didn't he tell me?" Reyna demanded indignantly.
"Because of the Civil War," Cornelia answered. "And all the other wars we fought with each other. You know the stories. Guy said the six of them got along fine but they agreed not to go against the gods' clear will by telling either camp about the other."
"But Guy told you, and now you're telling us," Kelly pointed out.
Cornelia nodded. "Guy told me before he left to look for Jason. Something's starting up again, gods know what, and the Greeks are sure to be as involved in it as we are. My orders were to pass the information on to Reyna if and when it seemed relevant. I'd say Percy Jackson makes it relevant."
"I agree," Reyna said grimly.
There was a brief and anything but sleepy silence as the four girls contemplated the new facts.
"Well that sure killed the mood," Vicki said at last.
"Yeah, I'm all tense again," Kelly agreed. "Thanks a lot, Cornelia."
She shrugged. "Sorry, who's for the laconium?*"
Grassor, Planto Nostrum Dies (trans.) Go Ahead, Make My Day
Lymphae: Minor Roman deities of wells, fountains, purification and bodily health, all of which makes them natural attendants for the baths.
Mentula:A bad word in Latin that I have no intention of translating.
Laconium: Roman for sauna.