Well I just love the smell of a new story in the morning. As promised, there is the first chapter to Lost on Jupiter, sequel to My Weeks in Hell.
Lost on Jupiter
It was dark, so dark. Blackness suffocated Percy. It hid his dreams, made all his memories fuzzy. He could still feel everything—soggy leaves soaking his clothes, dirt clumps shoved into his ears and nose, mud smeared on various parts of his body—but it was as if it wasn't his body. The teen felt as if he was sensing someone else's feelings, that the body he obviously possessed was not his.
A sliver of gold filled his vision. Hesitantly, the teen shifted his head so he could see the sliver before it, too, disappeared. As he watched, a fuzzy image of golden hair formed, blonde curls surrounding a smiling tanned face. Pixelated gray eyes grinned at him, filled with love and friendliness.
"Seaweed brain," a voice said. The hair shimmered, as if she was shaking her head. "You're so stupid somethings."
The fuzzy image was Annabeth, whoever that was. A strange sense filled him. It felt like love. That it. He felt love for her, and Annabeth's voice was filled with love. Despite the distance feeling, he felt the love. The teen knew what love was, even if he didn't know how.
The pixelated lips continued to move, but the loving voice didn't fill the air. The image became fuzzier and fuzzier until only a strip of golden hair was left, only for that to disappear seconds later.
No! The confused teen wanted to scream. Come back! You're supposed to help me, aren't you? Save me Annabeth! Pull me out of the darkness with you! Hot liquid smeared the dirt on his face, tears. Please, don't leave me here. I don't like the darkness alone.
The blackness was what he feared. It was strange, fear of darkness. It was so childish. For someone as old as he was—or as old as he believe he was—to be afraid of such a childish phobia. It was unheard of! Still, the teen got the sense that horrible things had happened in the darkness—Monsters! Monsters hid in the dark—and he was not welcome.
So, he feared it.
Suddenly, another problem filled his brain. One that distracted him from the blackness, if only for a minute.
Who am I?
He didn't know. Nothing filled his mind. Not images of his family—if he had one—not even images of himself. Nothing, not even a name flashed in front of him. He was lost.
The teen turned his head, looking into the darkness again, away from where Annabeth had been. He came face-to-face with brown, almost black, eyes surrounded by ink black hair. The man smiled, a nice contrast to the dark glow that surrounded him. The man seemed to be talking to the teen, but he wasn't. No, the confused teen was quick to realize this friendly looking man was not speaking to him, but an invisible person in front of him. A person that the teen could not see.
The olive-skinned man laughed, sending the teen's stomach flying through the ground. "Come on, my sea prince, wipe that frown off your face." The teen found himself doing as the smooth voice asked. "You don't look good like that."
The lost teen tried to speak, tell the man he was there. This one, he would help him, the teen could just sense it. He didn't understand it entirely, but he knew that the olive-skinned man would save him. He would save the teen like he had done before.
The scene changed. Now, Percy was looking at the same olive-skinned man standing in a garden full of bright flowers—were those made of gems? His face was full of sadness and the dark aura that had surrounded him was more prominent now. The dark eyes looked down at a flower in his hand, a beautiful blue flower—the name of it was lost to the teen. "I love you," the man whispered. "I wish I could tell you that right now." The flower dropped from his hand, floating to the ground.
It landed in the blackness again, rippling as if on water. When the teen finally tore his eyes away from pretty blue flower, he realized the man was gone. He has just faded out while the teen had been focused on the flower. A cold sense filled him, emotions he did not understand hurting his chest—sadness and happiness colliding, longing and lust, that feeling of love that he'd felt for Annabeth. It was different now, though. The strange love he felt when the dark-skinned man disappeared tore at his aching heart.
"Awaken." This voice was not as distance as the others. It was as if it vibrated through his detected body. Not that he was hearing it, but as if he was feeling the words. "It is time to awaken demigod."
His eyelids fluttered open without his brain consciously thinking it. If the teen had been given a choice, he would have stayed in the blackness. It did not matter that he feared it. The hope of seeing those familiar faces again made him want to stay in the dark forever.
Still, he had the feeling that was not an option. So he awoke, pulling the body into a sitting position. Looking around, the teen saw he was indeed on the wet ground, soggy leaves acting as an almost cushion for his body. Looking as the sky, he could see gray clouds, as if threatening rain but not willing to give it. His eyes fell a little, to the forest then the remains of what seemed to be a burnt down house. Finally, the teen's eyes found their way to the source voice that had filled his unconscious mind, a huge chocolate red wolf with piercing silver eyes.
If anything, the teen was not stupid enough to anger a creature like this. So, he stayed silent, noticing that the large wolf was not alone. Standing off to the sides were more wolves, not of her size but still very large.
"I am Lupa," the voice vibrated through him again, almost as if speaking though the teen's mind, "Guardian of Rome. Do you know who you are?" The teen shook his head, his voice not willing to answer and risk angering Lupa. "You are Percy Jackson and you a demigod of Rome."
Lost on Jupiter
It was that face again, the face of the olive-skinned man that had told him his name. He kept appearing in the Roman demigod's dreams. Percy had no idea why, all he could guess was that he had been important, before his memories had disappeared. No. His memories did not just disappear. He wasn't like the victim of a head injury, where they lost their memories but they would reappear as the continued their lives. No, his memories had been taken. Lupa wouldn't tell him by who, she only said that the Parcae demanded it. Whatever that meant.
Either way, whoever had taken his memories, Percy was determined to get them back. He wouldn't just sit around and wait for someone to say "Oh, poor boy. Here's the memories I took." No, he'd fight for them back. That was what Lupa had taught him. Don't just sit, do something.
Percy wanted to know who that man was from the dreams he received. Why couldn't the teen have any recollection of him? Why couldn't he be like Annabeth, who seemed to plague his mind? Her image became sharper and sharper with each time he slept. Not that he slept often. No, Percy found himself running from beings trying to kill him more than actually sleeping.
The monsters that scare children, the ones that older children and adults made up in hopes of scaring a child into behaving, Percy had quickly discovered were real. The first time he had actually encountered one had been soon after leaving the Wolf House. It had looked like a large dog. That obviously wasn't what it was though.
Now, Percy found himself being chased by some ugly snake-haired ladies. They really were starting to annoy him; they just wouldn't die! Even worse than that, the idiots wouldn't leave him alone. The only time the teen found himself happy was when he dreamed of the Italian man and Annabeth. Since dreaming involved sleeping, and he obviously wasn't getting any of that, that hope seemed to be a thing of the past.
When was the last time he'd killed them, two hours ago? That seemed to be the time limit for when the dust bunnies began to gather into their form again. Well, you know how far you can run on foot in two hours? Not very far at all. That was another reason the teen hadn't slept, not being able to get enough distance in between the monster ladies and him. Though, no sleep did sound like a better idea than getting eaten...
At leas they couldn't kill him either. The—what did they call themselves? Gorgons—claws couldn't puncture Percy's skin and their teeth shattered every time they tried to take a chunk out of him. That was a real plus in Percy's book. But he couldn't keep this up. The lack of sleep was starting to take affect on his brain—the mental images from the sleep didn't help much either—and his lack of food also seemed to be taking affect on his body.
How long would it take the gorgons to find a way to kill him? A shorter time than he could get away.
Percy came to a halt as he almost tripped down a hill. He looked at the area around him, hoping to get a feel of where he'd run off to this time. Perhaps the internal GPS that most normal people had would kick in. Then again, the demigod was far from normal.
There wasn't much, golden hills with scattered trees to the left. The flatlands of Berkeley and Oakland to the right. Farther west, Percy could just barely see the sparkling water of the San Francisco Bay, further out was the Golden Gate Bridge.
His gut jerked that way, willing him to go, quickly followed by a wave of sorrow. He'd been here before. The city had a connection to the blonde girl, Annabeth. When had he come? Helping a friend maybe? Saving Annabeth?
A picture of a thirteen year old Italian girl flashed to the forefront of his mind. She was grinning from ear to ear in a floppy green hat and silver parka. "Take care of him Percy," he remembered her saying. Percy strained his mind. The teen had gotten to San Francisco because of her, and he couldn't even remember her name.
Just as quickly as the image of the pretty girl had come, it left, only leaving soft whispers of hope in his mind.
He should go to the bay, cross it. Perhaps in the ocean his memories would come back. Or even better, he could find that Italian girl—who looked almost like a twin to the man he'd dreamed of—and maybe even Annabeth. Those two should have some answers. Besides, water gave him strength. Percy had figured that out two days ago when he'd strangled a sea monster in the Carquinez Strait. Maybe getting to the ocean would give him a fighting chance.
Percy took a step forward, towards the city, then stopped. Lupa had to him to trust his instincts, that same instinct was the one that guided him south. That internal GPS was shaking like crazy now. The end of this long, tiring journey was close to ending now, so close, but the sea wasn't it. Where was it? Nothing was here.
The breeze shifted and Percy caught the scent of reptile. He stopped, listening. Some a hundred yards down the incline, leaves rustled.
The gorgons were close.
He groaned, scanning the area again for a quick way out. None, the summit was too steep, he'd break his legs trying to get down. Percy's fight or flight instant had kicked in the moment the teen had woken up two months ago in the wolf house, with Lupa and her pack hovering over him. The halfblood had relied on them more than he'd hoped too. Now, his instant was telling him to fight.
Percy pulled out a pen from his pocket, Anaklusmos—Riptide. He uncapped it. The cheap pen transformed into a sleek sword perhaps three feet long. It was made out of some metal that the teen found he couldn't name, even if he'd tried.
"There you are!"
Percy took a few steps back, almost stumbling down the hill, trying to get away from the gorgon.
It was the smiling one—Beano.
At least, that's what Percy had thought it was when he'd seen the name tag at the Bargain Mart three days ago. The teen had already guess he was dyslexic, see as he couldn't read for anything, so it made since that he had mistaken the name Stheno for Beano.
"Try one?" Stheno asked, holding out her tray of free samples. Percy stomach churned at the thought of touching the "Crispy Cheese 'n' Wieners".
"Where's your sister?" He held up his sword, fending her off.
"Oh, put that thing down," the gorgon chided. She held out the tray. "You know by now that even Celestial bronze can't kill us for long. Have a Crispy Cheese 'n' Wiener! They're on sale this week, and I'd hate to kill you on an empty stomach."
"Stheno!" The second of the ugly gorgons appeared to Percy's right so fast, a reaction wasn't even possible. Thankfully, she was too busy glaring at the childish monster to pay him any attention. "I said to sneak up on him and kill him!"
"But, Euryale..." Stheno's smile wavered. "Can't I give him a sample first?
"No, you imbecile!" She bared her fangs at Percy. "You've led us on quite a chase, Percy Jackson. But now you're trapped, and we'll have our revenge!"
"The Cheese 'n' Wieners are only $2.99," Stheno added, as if helpful. "Grocery department, aisle three."
Euryale snarled. "Stheno, the Bargain Mart was a front! You're going native! Now, put down that ridiculous tray and help me kill this demigod. Or have you forgotten that he's the one who vaporized Medusa?"
Percy took another step back, then tried to balance himself. Just a few more steps and over the edge he'd go. "Look, ladies, we've been over this. I don't even remember killing Medusa. I don't remember anything! Can't we just call a truce and talk about your weekly specials?"
Stheno gave her sister a pouty look, which was hard to do with giant bronze tusks. "Can we?" She pleaded, as if a child wanting a sweet.
"No!" Euryale's red eyes bored into Percy. "I don't care what you remember, son of the sea god. I can smell Medusa's blood on you. It's faint, yes, several years old, but you were the last one to defeat her. She still has not returned from Tartarus. It's your fault!"
The teenager didn't understand that. The whole "dying then returning from Tartarus" concept gave him a headache. Then again, the idea that a ballpoint pen could turn into a sword, or that monsters could disguise themselves with something called the Mist, or that Percy was the son of some barnacle-encrusted god from five thousand years ago, that gave him a headache too. But stacking everything together really didn't help.
He had to believe it though. These crazy ideas were the only things that kept Percy alive. They were the only things that were being him closer to his memories, Annabeth and the Italian man.
"How about we call it a draw?" Percy suggested, giving a stupid grin. "I can't kill you. You can't kill me. If you're Medusa's sisters—like the Medusa who turned people to stone—shouldn't I be petrified by now?" He didn't get the who "Mythological creatures are real" thing either, it just added to his headache.
"Heroes!" Euryale said with disgust. "They always bring that up, just like our mother!" 'Why can't you turn people to stone? Your sister can turn people to stone.' Well I'm sorry to disappoint you, boy! That was Medusa's curse alone. She was the most hideous one in the family. She got all the luck!"
Stheno looked hurt, as if she was about to cry. "Mother said I was the most hideous."
'Quiet!' Euryale scolded. "As for you, Percy Jackson, it's true you bear the mark of Achilles. That makes you a little tougher to kill. But don't worry. We'll find a way."
"The mark of what?" Achilles? At the thought of the name, Percy blacked out for a minute.
"If you bathe in the River Styx, you will receive the make of Achilles Percy," an Italian boy smiled. He looked like the man Percy dreamed about, only younger. "It means that you'll be invincible, except for your mortal spot. So if you do agree to my plan, watch out for that."
"Achilles," Stheno said cheerfully. "Oh, he was gorgeous! Dipped in the River Styx as a child, you know, so he was invulnerable except for a tiny spot on his ankle. That's what happened to you, dear. Someone must've dumped you in the Styx and made your skin like iron. But not to worry. Heroes like you always have a weak spot. We just have to find it, and then we can kill you. Won't that be lovely? Have a Cheese 'n' Wiener!"
Percy tried to think. He didn't remember any dip in the Styx. A chill went through his spine, or maybe he did. It could explain how he'd survived for so long against the gorgons. The teen looked over his shoulder.
Maybe if he just fell down the mountain would he survive?
He didn't want to risk it—not without something to slow the fall, or a sled, or...
He looked at Stheno's large silver platter of free samples.
"Reconsidering?" Stheno asked, noticing his glances. "Very wise, dear. I added some gorgon's blood to these, so your death will be quick and painless."
Percy's throat constricted, that couldn't be good. "You added your blood to the Cheese 'n' Wieners?"
"Just a little." Stheno smiled. "A tiny nick on my arm, but you're sweet to be concerned. Blood from our right side can cure anything, you know, but blood from our left side is deadly—"
"You dimwit!" Euryale screeched. "You're not supposed to tell him that! He won't eat the wieners if you tell him they're poisoned!"
Stheno looked stunned. "He won't? But I said it would be quick and painless."
"Never mind!" Euryale's fingernails grew into claws. "We'll kill him the hard way—just keep slashing until we find the weak spot. Once we defeat Percy Jackson, we'll be more famous than Medusa! Our patron will reward us greatly!"
Percy gripped his sword tighter. He'd have to time his move perfectly—a few seconds of confusion, grab the platter with his left hand...
Keep them talking.
"Before you slash me to bits," he said,trying to keep a cheery tone, "who's this patron you mentioned?"
Euryale sneered. "The goddess Gaia,of course! The one who brought us back from oblivion! You won't live long enough to meet her, but your friends below will soon face her wrath. Even now, her armies are marching south. At the Feast of Fortune, she'll awaken, and the demigods will be cut down like—like—"
"Like our low prices at Bargain Mart!" Stheno suggested, wanting to be helpful.
"Gah!" Euryale stormed towards her sister. Percy took the opening. He grabbed Stheno's platter, scattering poisoned Cheese 'n' Wieners, and slashed Riptide across Euryale's waist, cutting her in half.
He raised the platter, and Stheno found herself facing her own greasy reflection.
"Medusa!" she screamed, causing Percy to chuckle.
Her sister Euryale had crumbled to dust, but she was already starting to re-form, like a snowman un-melting. "Stheno, you fool!" she gurgled as her half-made face rose from the mound of dust. "That's just your own reflection! Get him!"
Percy slammed the metal tray on Stheno's head, and she passed out cold.
He put the platter behind his butt, said a silent prayer to whatever Roman god oversaw stupid sledding tricks and jumped off the side of the hill thinking Please don't let me die. I have to find out who that boy is.
Lost on Jupiter
Percy narrowly missed a tree, glanced off a boulder, and spun a three-sixty as he shot toward the highway. Soon enough, he realized what a stupid idea it was. The least he could have done was chose a device with steering.
He heard the gorgon sisters screaming and caught a glimpse of Euryale's coral-snake hair at the top of the hill, but he didn't have time to worry about it. He was about to have a head on collision in less than ten seconds. Luck was on the teen's side as he swivel sideways, avoiding shattering his legs.
As he fell toward the highway, the vision of Annabeth in tears entered his mind. Followed quickly by the Italian man's broken expression.
A gust of wind blew him to one side—just enough to miss the highway and crash into a clump of bushes. It wasn't a soft landing, but it was better than asphalt.
Percy groaned, struggling to his feet and resisting the urge to pass out. He couldn't stop moving. He needed to get those memories back. His hands were scratched up, but nothing was broken. He still had his backpack. Somewhere on the sled ride Percy had lost his sword, but he knew it would eventually reappear in his pocket in pen form. That was part of its magic. Crazy, right?
He didn't bother looking for the gorgons. The teen could easily hear, and smell, them from where he stood.
Now, he needed a plan.
He glanced east. Just as he'd figured, a hundred yards uphill the highway cut through the base of the cliff. Two tunnel entrances, one for each direction of traffic, stared down at him like eye sockets of a giant skull. In the middle, where the nose would have been, a cement wall jutted from the hillside, with a metal door like the entrance to a bunker.
It might have been a maintenance tunnel. That's probably what mortals thought, if they noticed the door at all. But they couldn't see through the Mist. Percy knew the door was more than that. Two kids in armor flanked the entrance. They wore a bizarre mix of plumed Roman helmets, breastplates, scabbards, blue jeans, purple T-shirts, and white athletic shoes.
The guard on the right looked like a girl, though it was hard to tell for sure with all the armor. The one on the left was a stocky guy with a bow and quiver on his back. Both kids held long wooden staffs with iron spear tips, like old-fashioned harpoons.
Percy's internal radar was pinging like crazy. After so long, he'd finally reached his goal. His instincts told him that if he could make it inside that door, he might find safety for the first time since the wolves had sent him south.
So why did he feel as if this wasn't his place?
Farther up the hill, the gorgons were scrambling over the roof of the apartment complex. Three minutes away—maybe less.
Part of him wanted to run to the door in the hill. He'd have to cross to the median of the highway, but then it would be a short sprint. Percy could make it before the gorgons reached him.
Part of him wanted to head west to the ocean. That's where he'd be safest. That's where his power would be greatest. Those Roman guards at the door made him uneasy. Something inside him said: This isn't my territory. This is dangerous.
"You're right, of course," said a voice next to him. Percy jumped. At first he thought Beano had managed to sneak up on him again, but the old lady sitting in the bushes was even more repulsive than a gorgon.
"It isn't a maintenance tunnel," the homeless hippie confirmed. "It's the entrance to camp." A jolt went up Percy's spine. Camp. Yes, that's where he was from. A camp. Maybe this was his home. Annabeth had to be there. If he found her, she would explain to Percy what all these thoughts were about.
But something felt wrong. The gorgons were still on the roof of the apartment building. Then Stheno shrieked in delight and pointed in Percy's direction. The old hippie lady raised her eyebrows. "Not much time, child. You need to make your choice."
"Who are you?" Percy asked, though he wasn't sure he wanted to know. The last thing he needed was another harmless mortal who turned out to be a monster.
"Oh, you can call me June." The old lady's eyes sparkled as if she'd made an excellent joke. "It is June, isn't it? They named the month after me!" She truly looked excited by the news, though Percy didn't understand at all."
"Okay…Look, I should go. Two gorgons are coming. I don't want them to hurt you." Besides, I feel uneasy about you, he wanted to add.
June clasped her hands over her heart. "How sweet! But that's part of your choice!"
"My choice…" Percy glanced nervously toward the hill. The gorgons had taken off their green vests. Wings sprouted from their backs—small bat wings, which glinted like brass. Since when did they have wings? Then the two sisters leaped off the apartment building and soared toward him. Great. Just great.
"Yes, a choice," June said, as if she were in no hurry. "You could leave me here at the mercy of the gorgons and go to the ocean. You'd make it there safely, I guarantee. The gorgons will be quite happy to attack me and let you go. In the sea, no monster would bother you. You could begin a new life, live to a ripe old age, and escape a great deal of pain and misery that is in your future."
Percy was pretty sure he wasn't going to like the second option. "Or?"
"Or you could do a good deed for an old lady," she said, her three teeth showing. "Carry me to the camp with you."
"Carry you?" Percy hoped she was kidding.
Then June hiked up her skirts and showed him her swollen purple feet. "I can't get there by myself," she said. "Carry me to camp—across the highway, through the tunnel, across the river." Percy didn't know what river she meant, but it didn't sound easy.
June looked pretty heavy. The gorgons were only fifty yards away now—leisurely gliding toward him as if they knew the hunt was almost over. Percy looked at the old lady. "And I'd carry you to this camp because—?"
"Because it's a kindness!" she said, annoyed by the fact he was asking. "And if you don't, the gods will die, the world we know will perish, and everyone from your old life will be destroyed. Of course, you wouldn't remember them, so I suppose it won't matter. You'd be safe at the bottom of the sea.…" Percy swallowed.
The gorgons shrieked with laughter as they soared in for the kill. "If I go to the camp," he said, "will I get my memory back?"
"Eventually," June said. "But be warned, you will sacrifice much! You'll lose the mark of Achilles. You'll feel pain, misery, and loss beyond anything you've ever known. But you might have a chance to save your old friends and family, to reclaim your old life."
The gorgons were circling right overhead. They were probably studying the old woman, trying to figure out who the new player was before they struck. "What about those guards at the door?" Percy asked.
June smiled. "Oh, they'll let you in, dear. You can trust those two. So, what do you say? Will you help a defenseless old woman?" Percy doubted June was defenseless.
Don't trust her. It was the Italian man's voice again. This is a bad idea, don't trust her.
I'm sorry, but I need to know who you are. "I'll carry you." He scooped up the old woman. She was lighter than he expected. Percy tried to ignore her sour breath and her calloused hands clinging to his neck. He made it across the first lane of traffic. A driver honked.
A shadow fell over him. Stheno called down gleefully, "Clever boy! Found a goddess to carry, did you?"
A goddess? June cackled with delight, muttering, and "Whoops!" as a car almost killed them.
Just great. Now my day is even better.
Somewhere off to his left, Euryale screamed, "Get them! Two prizes are better than one!"
Percy bolted across the remaining lanes. Somehow he made it to the median alive. He saw the gorgons swooping down, cars swerving as the monsters passed overhead. The teen ran for the door in the hillside. June got heavier with every step. Percy's heart pounded. His ribs ached. One of the guards yelled. The guy with the bow nocked an arrow. Percy shouted, "Wait!" But the boy wasn't aiming at him. The arrow flew over Percy's head. A gorgon wailed in pain. The second guard readied her spear, gesturing frantically at Percy to hurry.
Fifty feet from the door. Thirty feet. "Gotcha!" shrieked Euryale. Percy turned as an arrow thudded into her forehead. Euryale tumbled into the fast lane. A truck slammed into her and carried her backward a hundred yards, but she just climbed over the cab, pulled the arrow out of her head, and launched back into the air. Percy reached the door. "Thanks," he told the guards. "Good shot."
"That should've killed her!" the archer protested.
"Welcome to my world," Percy chuckled humorlessly.
"Frank," the girl said. "Get them inside, quick! Those are gorgons."
"Gorgons?" The archer's voice squeaked. It was hard to tell much about him under the helmet, but he looked stout like a wrestler, maybe fourteen or fifteen. "Will the door hold them?"
In Percy's arms, June cackled. "No, no it won't. Onward, Percy Jackson! Through the tunnel, over the river!"
"Percy Jackson?" The female guard was darker-skinned, with curly hair sticking out the sides of her helmet. She looked younger than Frank—maybe thirteen. Her sword scabbard came down almost to her ankle. Still, she sounded like she was the one in charge. "Okay, you're obviously a demigod. But who's the—?" She glanced at June. "Never mind. Just get inside. I'll hold them off."
"Hazel," the boy said. To Percy, he sounded worried. "Don't be crazy."
"Go!" she demanded. Frank cursed in another language— was that Latin?—and opened the door.
"Come on!" Percy followed, staggering under the weight of the old lady, who was definitely getting heavier.
A few hundred yards ahead, Percy saw a square of daylight. The old lady was heavier now than a pile of sandbags. Percy's arms shook from the strain. June mumbled a song in Latin, like a lullaby, which didn't help Percy concentrate.
Behind them, the gorgons' voices echoed in the tunnel. Hazel shouted. Percy was tempted to dump June and run back to help—almost like instant—but then the entire tunnel shook with the rumble of falling stone. There was a squawking sound, just like the gorgons had made when Percy had dropped a crate of bowling balls on them in Napa.
He glanced back. The west end of the tunnel was now filled with dust. "Shouldn't we check on Hazel?" he asked.
"She'll be okay—I hope," Frank said. "She's good underground. Just keep moving! We're almost there."
June chuckled. "All roads lead there, child. You should know that."
"Detention?" Percy asked.
"Rome, child," the old woman said. "Rome."
Percy wasn't sure he'd heard her right. True, his memory was gone. His brain hadn't felt right since he had woken up at the Wolf House. But he was pretty sure Rome wasn't in California.
They kept running. The glow at the end of the tunnel grew brighter, and finally they burst into sunlight. Percy froze. He felt as if he'd stepped into a secret world.
"Camp Jupiter," Frank said. "We'll be safe once—" Footsteps echoed in the tunnel behind them. Hazel burst into the light. She was covered with stone dust and breathing hard. She'd lost her helmet, so her curly brown hair fell around her shoulders. Her armor had long slash marks in front from the claws of a gorgon. One of the monsters had tagged her with a 50% off sticker.
"I slowed them down," she said. "But they'll be here any second."
Frank cursed. "We have to get across the river."
June squeezed Percy's neck tighter. "Oh, yes, please. I can't get my dress wet."
Percy bit his tongue. If this lady was a goddess, she must've been the goddess of smelly, heavy, useless hippies.
But he'd come this far. He'd better keep lugging her along. He stumbled a few times as they ran for the river. Frank and Hazel kept him on his feet. They reached the riverbank, and Percy stopped to catch his breath. The current was fast, but the river didn't look deep. Only a stone's throw across stood the gates of the fort.
"Go, Hazel." Frank nocked two arrows at once. "Escort Percy so the sentries don't shoot him. It's my turn to hold off the baddies."
Hazel nodded and waded into the stream. Percy started to follow, but something made him hesitated. Usually he loved the water, but this river seemed…powerful, and not necessarily friendly.
"The Little Tiber," said June sympathetically. "It flows with the power of the original Tiber, river of the empire. This is your last chance to back out, child. The mark of Achilles is a Greek blessing. You can't retain it if you cross into Roman territory. The Tiber will wash it away."
Percy was too exhausted to understand all that, but he got the main point. "If I cross, I won't have iron skin anymore?"
June smiled. "So what will it be? Safety, or a future of pain and possibility?" Behind him, the gorgons screeched as they flew from the tunnel. Frank let his arrows fly. From the middle of the river, Hazel yelled, "Percy, come on!" Up on the watchtowers, horns blew.
The people from my dreams, Percy thought. I need to know who they are. He forged into the river. It was icy cold, much swifter than he'd imagined, but that didn't bother him. New strength surged through his limbs. His senses tingled like he'd been injected with caffeine. He reached the other side and put the old woman down as the camp's gates opened. Dozens of kids in armor poured out.
Hazel turned with a relieved smile. Then she looked over Percy's shoulder, and her expression changed to horror. "Frank!" Frank was halfway across the river when the gorgons caught him. They swooped out of the sky and grabbed him by either arm. He screamed in pain as their claws dug into his skin. The sentries yelled, but Percy knew they couldn't get a clear shot. They'd end up killing Frank. The other kids drew swords and got ready to charge into the water, but they'd be too late. There was only one way. Percy thrust out his hands. An intense tugging sensation filled his gut, and the Tiber obeyed his will. The river surged. Whirlpools formed on either side of Frank.
Giant watery hands erupted from the stream, copying Percy's movements.
The giant hands grabbed the gorgons, who dropped Frank in surprise. Then the hands lifted the squawking monsters in a liquid vise grip Percy heard the other kids yelping and backing away, but he stayed focused on his task.
He made a smashing gesture with his fists, and the giant hands plunged the gorgons into the Tiber. The monsters hit bottom and broke into dust. Glittering clouds of gorgon essence struggled to re-form, but the river pulled them apart like a blender. Soon every trace of the gorgons was swept downstream. The whirlpools vanished, and the current returned to normal.
Percy stood on the riverbank. His clothes and his skin steamed as if the Tiber's waters had given him an acid bath. He felt exposed, raw…vulnerable.
In the middle of the Tiber, Frank stumbled around, looking stunned but perfectly fine. Hazel waded out and helped him ashore. Only then did Percy realize how quiet the other kids had become. Everyone was staring at him. Only the old lady June looked unfazed. "Well, that was a lovely trip," she said. "Thank you, Percy Jackson, for bringing me to Camp Jupiter."
One of the girls made a choking sound. "Percy…Jackson?" She sounded as if she recognized his name.
Percy focused on her, hoping to see a familiar face. She was obviously a leader. She wore a regal purple cloak over her armor. Her chest was decorated with medals. She must have been about Percy's age, with dark, piercing eyes and long black hair.
Percy didn't recognize her, but the girl stared at him as if she'd seen him in her nightmares. June laughed with delight. "Oh, yes. You'll have such fun together!" Then, just because the day hadn't been weird enough already, the old lady began to glow and change form.
She grew until she was a shining, seven-foot-tall goddess in a blue dress, with a cloak that looked like goat's skin over her shoulders. Her face was stern and stately. In her hand was a staff topped with a lotus flower.
If it was possible for the campers to look more stunned, they did. The girl with the purple cloak knelt. The others followed her lead. One kid got down so hastily he almost impaled himself on his sword.
Hazel was the first to speak. "Juno." She and Frank also fell to their knees, leaving Percy the only one standing. He knew he should probably kneel too, but after carrying the old lady so far, he didn't feel like showing her that much respect.
"Juno, huh?" he said. "If I passed your test, can I have my memory and my life back?"
The goddess smiled. "In time, Percy Jackson, if you succeed here at camp. You've done well today, which is a good start. Perhaps there's hope for you yet." She turned to the other kids. "Romans, I present to you the son of Neptune. For months he has been slumbering, but now he is awake. His fate is in your hands. The Feast of Fortune comes quickly, and Death must be unleashed if you are to stand any hope in the battle. Do not fail me!" Juno shimmered and disappeared. Percy looked at Hazel and Frank for some kind of explanation, but they seemed just as confused as he was. Frank was holding something Percy hadn't noticed before—two small clay flasks with cork stoppers, like potions, one in each hand.
Percy had no idea where they'd come from, but he saw Frank slip them into his pockets. Frank gave him a look like: We'll talk about it later. The girl in the purple cloak stepped forward. She examined Percy warily, and Percy couldn't shake the feeling that she wanted to run him through with her dagger. "So," she said coldly, "a son of Neptune, who comes to us with the blessing of Juno."
"Look," he said, "my memory's a little fuzzy. Um, it's gone, actually. Do I know you?"
The girl hesitated. "I am Reyna, praetor of the Twelfth Legion. And…no, I don't know you." That last part was a lie. Percy could tell from her eyes.
But he also understood that if he argued with her about it here, in front of her soldiers, she wouldn't appreciate it. "Hazel," said Reyna, "bring him inside. I want to question him at the principia. Then we'll send him to Octavian. We must consult the auguries before we decide what to do with him."
"What do you mean," Percy asked, "'decide what to do with me?"
Reyna's hand tightened on her dagger. Obviously she was not used to having her orders questioned. "Before we accept anyone into camp, we must interrogate them and read the auguries. Juno said your fate is in our hands. We have to know whether the goddess has brought us as a new recruit.…" Reyna studied Percy as if she found that doubtful. "Or," she said more hopefully, "if she's brought us an enemy to kill."
Uh, I hated writing over half of this chapter. Basically, it was a catch-up chapter that I had to write to explain what happen to Percy. Obviously, most of this stuff came exactly from the book, though I tried to at my own personal touch but eventually my brain went on auto-drive. Sorry if this chapter was boring, it will be more interesting and more my style for the rest of the story...
Thanks for reading!
~Goddess of the Multiverses