Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Trials of Apollo Camp Jupiter Classified: A Probatio's Journal, Page 2

Rick Riordan

  Janice and I bonded over our sugar-crusted pastries while relaxing in hammocks on the Fourth barracks front porch. We talked about everything from growing up as the only children of single parents (not an issue for either of us) to our near-death experiences with Lupa (very much an issue for both of us) to tomorrow’s testudo—turtle, tortoise, whatever; I’m trying to use the Latin terms when I can—practice (only an issue if we’re shoulder to shoulder beneath that shell of shields with a garlic-scented mouth-breather). We’re in the same ID the Deity class, so later tonight we’re going to quiz each other on the names and attributes of minor gods and goddesses.

  And now I’m going to admit something I’ve avoided thinking about: Even though I’m surrounded by people wherever I go, I’ve been lonely here. But thanks to Janice, that’s over now. ☺

  Can’t say I hadn’t been warned.

  My first morning in the Fourth, Leila had called me to her bunk for a here’s what’s what talk. She explained the different ranks within the legion (probatio, legionnaire, centurion, praetor) and told me I could leapfrog right to legionnaire if I did some mega-heroic unselfish deed. No pressure, she said, though it would boost the Fourth’s cred if I did. Then she went over Camp Jupiter’s ground rules, stuff like no taking a giant eagle out for a joy ride, no plotting to overthrow your praetor, no short-sheeting the senators’ togas no matter how hilarious a prank that might be. Punishments for rule-breaking range from extra chores to banishment to being sewn into a bag with angry weasels. (That last one got a solid yikes from me.)

  Finally, she warned me that probatios often have wild and crazy dreams after arriving at camp. Being plopped into the middle of ancient Rome’s last remaining outpost and surrounded by godly influences—and maybe even the occasional god, if Janice was right about them visiting New Rome—triggers the visions, they think. Sometimes the dreams are harmless, but other times they’re horrible nightmares that warn of impending danger. So if I ever wake up screaming, Leila said, I should come find her. Because the screams alone wouldn’t be enough to alert her that something was wrong, apparently.

  My first nights here were mercifully nightmare-free. Tonight, though…well, I didn’t wake up screaming, but my dream did have some uber-disturbing moments. Here’s what I remember:

  A frizzy-haired girl about my age approached the Decumanian Gate, the camp’s western entrance. Her ratty sneakers flapped with every step. Her threadbare dress hung like a filthy rag on her skinny four-foot-nothing frame. She looked like a stiff breeze could knock her over, and yet something about her—her clenched teeth, the tightness around her dark, heavily lashed eyes, the fleet of flies buzzing around her head—made my dream-self uneasy.

  When she reached the gate, Terminus, the god who guards our borders, popped up. (I find Terminus fascinating. I mean, the guy is just a marble head and torso, no arms, no legs—and yet I swear he has a stick up his butt.) He demanded to see her identification. But when she thrust her letter of recommendation at him, he drew back, shook his head violently, and refused to let her enter.

  A centurion of the Fourth Cohort arrived then. He wore the usual Roman gear—helmet, chain mail, leather arm and leg greaves, dagger, combat boots with piked cleats, sword, and…Gods, I’m exhausted just writing it all down—forget wearing it! I took the guy for a modern-day sentry until I saw his ripped jeans and the flannel shirt tied around his waist. Those fashion choices hinted at 1990s grunge rock. But it wasn’t until he removed his helmet that I knew I was glimpsing a scene from the past.

  Because the centurion was my dad.

  Not the guy I know and love, with his pudgy dad bod, dark brown hair, and nondescript clothes, but back when he was a high-ranking, scraggy teenage member of the Twelfth Legion Fulminata. With a cringe-y bleached-blond cowlick, no less.

  He stepped forward and overruled Terminus. The god threw his nonexistent arms up in disgust while Dad beckoned to the girl with a welcoming smile. That smile changed to alarm mixed with mild revulsion—the same expression he got the time he found a week-old pizza box festering under my bed—when the girl shoved her papers into his hand and pushed past him into camp. Eyes wide, Dad glanced at Terminus, who shot him a superior told you so look before vanishing.

  The scene dissolved. New ones tumbled rapid-fire through my mind: The assembled legion stumbling back to let the girl pass. The aurae flinging food at her from far across the mess hall. Her bunkmates whispering about her behind their hands. Hannibal the elephant letting out an alarmed trumpet when she neared.

  The dream shifted again. Now Dad stood at attention before his praetors inside the principia. The praetors questioned him about the new girl. He shook his head and said he’d tried, he really had, but no one in the cohort could stand to be around her. Her presence was disrupting the Fourth’s ability to work as a unit. Something needed to be done. The praetors looked grave but nodded.

  The dream spun back to the barracks. It was after midnight, but the girl was out of bed. She had a tattered knapsack over one shoulder, and I knew instinctively she was running away. Before she sneaked outside, though, she tipped over a garbage can and kicked the rotting contents all over the barracks floor.

  Then she scowled. Not at her bunkmates—at me. At least that’s what it seemed like.

  That’s when I woke up. As soon as my heart stopped racing, I grabbed this journal and came here to my favorite latrine to ponder the dream’s significance. It was weird seeing Dad at that age, and I was no fan of the girl’s scowl, but overall, the dream didn’t seem to foretell any danger. I mean, everything in it had happened years ago. So no reason to rouse Leila.

  Especially if…Well, what if the dream was a different kind of warning—a warning that not every demigod or legacy finds a place at Camp Jupiter? I’m afraid that if I go to Leila, she might think I had the dream because I don’t really belong here.

  So yeah. I’m going to keep the dream to myself. After all, the fewer people who know about my dad’s cowlick, the better.…

  Today was super fun, except for the near-death experience.

  It happened midway through the course Intro to Elephants, Unicorns, and Giant Eagles, which I’d signed up for because, well, elephants, unicorns, and giant eagles. (A totally misleading description, BTW, as there is only one elephant here. Unless they’re hiding a spare pachyderm somewhere. Possible, though not likely. I think.) The class met at the stables, which are located uncomfortably close to the Fifth Cohort barracks. How those guys stand the stench is beyond me. (Note to self: The Fifth would be the perfect market for my spritz bottles of Bombilo’s Café Scent!)

  Eye-watering stink aside, the class was cool. I learned the proper technique for making medicinal unicorn-horn shavings (cheese grater applied gently to horn). I scrubbed Hannibal behind the ears with a sudsy push broom (if elephants could purr, his motor would have been rumbling overtime). I fed dead rats—probably the ones I’d collected earlier in the week—to hungry giant eagles.

  And I stepped in a catastrophic amount of poop. The Elephants, Unicorns, and Giant Eagles class should come with a no sandals warning. After my third encounter, I asked the instructors a two-part question: Whose job is it to clean up all this poop, and where does the poop go?

  Answer: Here’s a shovel and a compostable garbage bag. Use one to fill the other. Tie the bag up tight. And then get out of the way, pronto.

  Well, my pronto wasn’t pronto enough. Which is why I suddenly went airborne when a giant female eagle named Aquila (Latin for eagle; wonder which clever legionnaire named her?) swooped in and snatched my poop bag in her talons.

  Full disclosure: I clung to that smelly sack as if my life depended on it. Actually, I’m pretty sure it did, because oh my gods we flew high. Camp Jupiter disappeared in the distance. Or where I guessed the camp was, because the Mist, that magical force that shields our world from mortals, had disguised it as open hills and forests. I’m still learning to look through the Mist, but when I squinted, I could just make out the Little
Tiber ribboning through the meadow and the lake at the foot of Temple Hill.

  We flew on, Aquila, the poop bag, and me, until a rolling expanse of rotting garbage—the local landfill—came into view. The eagle dove to deposit her load. The descent was like the worst kind of roller coaster ride—full speed straight down, no twists or turns—and the garbage odor was even worse than the stables. (Ooh! Another outlet for Bombilo’s Café Scent!) I scrambled up on Aquila’s back to get my nose above the stink.

  Not a second too soon, either. A worker in a hard hat and a bright yellow safety vest emerged from her trailer. I flattened myself into the eagle’s neck feathers just in case the Mist wasn’t working. I risked a peek when we took off, though.

  The worker had taken off her sunglasses. I couldn’t see her eyes under her hard hat, but I could tell she was watching us. And she was smiling. Not a nice thanks for the giant bag of poop, come again soon smile—a nasty, knowing smile that gave me the shivers. I couldn’t get away from her and that landfill fast enough.

  Not that I was eager to get back to camp, because I figured I’d be in trouble. But my instructors were too relieved to see me in one piece to yell at me. Well, not too loudly or for too long, anyway.

  Here’s the thing, though: I’d do it again. Not the poop-bag flight or the landfill part, but the return journey. Because open-air soaring via giant-eagle express was a-maz-ing. And maybe I’m crazy, but I think Aquila liked having me along for the ride. That’s how I interpreted the little beak nudge she gave me when I slipped off, anyway. Sure, I’d get stuck with extra chores if I took her for an unauthorized flight, but honestly? It’d be worth it!

  Someone has been messing with my stuff! Specifically, with my Mercury action figure. Before Janice and I left to visit Temple Hill, I posed him like the statue in Great-Granddad’s sanctuary—leaning casually against a post, ankles crossed, his sack of coins in one hand and his caduceus in the crook of his other elbow.

  But now his legs are bent as if he’s about to spring into action. One arm is raised overhead, his caduceus held like a spear. Posed like that, he doesn’t look like Mercury anymore. He looks like a warrior. Almost like Mars, minus the threatening snarl. And his coin purse is missing.

  I’m sure someone’s just playing a prank on me, but still…I’m going to ask Janice if I should say something to our centurions.


  I took Janice’s advice and didn’t bother Leila. I’m glad I didn’t, because I just found the coin purse tucked under my pillow. Inside was a slip of parchment with two words, Invenient MV, inside an oval with a squiggly bottom. No clue what that oval signifies, but I’ve got chills. Because the handwriting is the same as in my XII note.

  I know invenient is Latin for find, and it’s used when the thing to be found is male. Which means MV is a boy or a man. But who is he? I don’t know anyone here with those initials. Why am I supposed to look for him, and what am I supposed to do if and when I find him? And what, if anything, does the message have to do with XII or my Mercury figure being posed to look like Mars? Argh!!!

  Well, I guess the only one who can answer those questions is the mysterious MV. So tomorrow, I’ll start looking for him. It shouldn’t take long. After all, there are only two hundred of us in the legion, and not all of us are male.

  Of course, if MV isn’t a member of the Twelfth…it could be a while before I invenient him.

  Welp, today has been totally awesome, she wrote sarcastically.

  I spent the morning asking if anyone knew who MV was. No luck, and when I started getting funny looks, I decided to back-burner the investigation for the time being. Then this afternoon I was trapped digging a trench with a chatterbox who spoke in question marks: “My name is, like, Lynda? I’m in the Second Cohort? My favorite store is the Sandal Shoppe?” The only time she shut up was when I accidentally-on-purpose tossed a shovelful of dirt in her face.

  And then there was tonight, when I played in my first deathball match. (DeathballTM! Like paintball, only with poison and acid and fireballs launched from a mini manubalista! Painful for all ages!) It should have been exciting, especially since Janice and I came up with a totally boss strategy we called the Janus. Basically, we fired our projectiles while crouched back to back behind our scutum (which I kept calling sputum until Janice explained that one was a large curved shield and the other was the wet mucusy stuff we cough up when we’re sick; I probably won’t confuse the two again). We looked like a two-headed, four-footed garbage bin shuffling around the field. But we withstood all attacks!

  Or we did until I slipped on a loose deathball and fell in the trench I’d dug with Question Mark Lynda. Janice escaped unscathed, but it was pretty much open season on me. My bruises will heal, but my scutum is dinged up worse than the hood of a car caught in a hailstorm. I’ll have to take it to the forges to get the dents banged out.

  The icing on the cake? I twisted my ankle. So, if the ambrosia and nectar don’t heal it, people will now have a legit reason to call me Claudia the Clumsy.

  Things were ugly in the mess hall this morning, and not just because an unprecedented number of legionnaires stumbled in with serious bed head. No, the trouble was because the food service was on the fritz. Instead of pancakes, bacon, and fruit, the wind spirits delivered nothing but hot, steamy oatmeal. Not a problem for me, but for the others…yikes.

  Hangry legionnaires were gearing up to storm the kitchens when a big black raven—aka Praetor Frank—flew in and announced that donuts from Bombilo’s were on the way.

  Much as I like oatmeal, I wasn’t going to pass up free donuts. So I headed outside to scrape my half-eaten bowl into a waste bin.

  That’s when I spotted Elon standing on his tippy-hooves and peeking in through a window. Fauns aren’t allowed inside the mess hall, but they occasionally sneak in for a quick mouthful of tasty cutlery. Elon is a lot younger than the other fauns, though—his horns are barely noticeable and the fur on his legs still looks baby-fine—so I figured he was too intimidated to break the rules. I knew the legionnaires would protest even more loudly if I gave him a precious donut, so I went over and offered him my oatmeal instead.

  Mistake. First off, the dude reeked like he’d been rolling in wet, slimy dumpster juice. Then he looked at my oatmeal as if it were purgamentorum derelinquere caeno. (That’s Latin for sewage sludge. I plan to hurl it at my enemy during the next war games. The phrase, not the actual sludge. Although…hmm.) And in case his disgusted expression didn’t get the message across, he gave me a verbal slap, too: “Elon doesn’t need your leftovers. Elon gets the pick of the litter.”

  I’m sorry, but anyone who refers to himself in the third person and brags about getting the choicest trash does not deserve my oatmeal, thank you very much. So I emptied my bowl and went back inside to the sad discovery that the last available donut was covered in coconut. Talk about purgamentorum derelinquere caeno.

  As bad as my morning was, it was nothing compared to what the aurae were going through. Usually, they’re invisible. But today they were so agitated they flickered like faulty lightbulbs. That’s how I realized that the food service mix-up wasn’t their doing. Which leads to these million-denarius questions: What went wrong? What will we eat if the mess hall is still messed up at lunch? And finally: Why would you ruin a perfectly good donut with coconut?

  There comes a moment in every young probatio’s life when she realizes she should have peed before putting on her armor. For me, that moment came when I reached the top of the watchtower for my first shift on sentry duty. I tried to pay attention while my partner, Julius, a seasoned legionnaire with three tattooed lines above his dad Mars’s symbol, explained how to fire a mounted crossbow. But I was so seriously hydrated I had to cut him off and request permission to use the facilities.

  He was very understanding (not). I believe his exact words were, “Stop dancing from foot to foot and just go already!” I’m pretty sure I set the camp record for racing down a flight of stairs while shedding ar

  The nearest facility was a unisex single-seater that looked like a Porta-Poo portable toilet dressed up in marble tiles. To my horror, the little sign by the door handle read OCCUPIED. A female voice inside confirmed that fact. “Mission accomplished!” she crowed.

  Yeah, that was a weird thing to say in a bathroom, but I didn’t care, because it meant she was done and I’d reached the desperation point. And yet she still didn’t come out! So after waiting a hot second, I pounded on the door and asked if she could please hurry up.

  I heard some shuffling, then the toilet flushed, the sign shifted to VACANT, and the occupant emerged. Not a girl. Not a boy, either, but Elon. I’m sure I looked surprised because, well, I’d assumed fauns used the great outdoors as their toilet. But judging from the stench that trailed out after him…um, no.

  I’d also assumed all fauns were like Don, the faun who once tried to sweet-talk me out of denarii so he could buy donuts. But Elon said just two words: “All yours.” His high, reedy voice didn’t sound anything like the one I’d heard. That led me to a third assumption: He hadn’t been alone in the bathroom.

  But I was wrong a third time, because no one else came out, and when I stepped inside, the bathroom was empty. Well, except for some flies, and they didn’t say anything except bzzz-bzzz-bzzz while I did my biz.