The mark of athena, p.4
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       The Mark of Athena, p.4

         Part #3 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 4


  Annabeth shuddered. She’d had her own share of nightmares lately.

  “Seven half-bloods must answer the call,” she said. “It needs to be a mix from both our camps. Jason, Piper, Leo, and me. That’s four. ”

  “And me,” Percy said. “Along with Hazel and Frank. That’s seven. ”

  “What?” Octavian shot to his feet. “We’re just supposed to accept that? Without a vote in the senate? Without a proper debate? Without—”

  “Percy!” Tyson the Cyclops bounded toward them with Mrs. O’Leary at his heels. On the hellhound’s back sat the skinniest harpy Annabeth had ever seen—a sickly-looking girl with stringy red hair, a sackcloth dress, and red-feathered wings.

  Annabeth didn’t know where the harpy had come from, but her heart warmed to see Tyson in his tattered flannel and denim with the backward SPQR banner across his chest. She’d had some pretty bad experiences with Cyclopes, but Tyson was a sweetheart. He was also Percy’s half brother (long story), which made him almost like family.

  Tyson stopped by their couch and wrung his meaty hands. His big brown eye was full of concern. “Ella is scared,” he said.

  “N-n-no more boats,” the harpy muttered to herself, picking furiously at her feathers. “Titanic, Lusitania, Pax…boats are not for harpies. ”

  Leo squinted. He looked at Hazel, who was seated next to him. “Did that chicken girl just compare my ship to the Titanic?”

  “She’s not a chicken. ” Hazel averted her eyes, as if Leo made her nervous. “Ella’s a harpy. She’s just a little…high-strung. ”

  “Ella is pretty,” Tyson said. “And scared. We need to take her away, but she will not go on the ship. ”

  “No ships,” Ella repeated. She looked straight at Annabeth. “Bad luck. There she is. Wisdom’s daughter walks alone—”

  “Ella!” Frank stood suddenly. “Maybe it’s not the best time—”

  “The Mark of Athena burns through Rome,” Ella continued, cupping her hands over her ears and raising her voice. “Twins snuff out the angel’s breath, Who holds the key to endless death. Giants’ bane stands gold and pale, Won through pain from a woven jail. ”

  The effect was like someone dropping a flash grenade on the table. Everyone stared at the harpy. No one spoke. Annabeth’s heart was pounding. The Mark of Athena…She resisted the urge to check her pocket, but she could feel the silver coin growing warmer—the cursed gift from her mother. Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me.

  Around them, the sounds of the feast continued, but muted and distant, as if their little cluster of couches had slipped into a quieter dimension.

  Percy was the first to recover. He stood and took Tyson’s arm.

  “I know!” he said with feigned enthusiasm. “How about you take Ella to get some fresh air? You and Mrs. O’Leary—”

  “Hold on. ” Octavian gripped one of his teddy bears, strangling it with shaking hands. His eyes fixed on Ella. “What was that she said? It sounded like—”

  “Ella reads a lot,” Frank blurted out. “We found her at a library. ”

  “Yes!” Hazel said. “Probably just something she read in a book. ”

  “Books,” Ella muttered helpfully. “Ella likes books. ”

  Now that she’d said her piece, the harpy seemed more relaxed. She sat cross-legged on Mrs. O’Leary’s back, preening her wings.

  Annabeth gave Percy a curious glance. Obviously, he and Frank and Hazel were hiding something. Just as obviously, Ella had recited a prophecy—a prophecy that concerned her.

  Percy’s expression said, Help.

  “That was a prophecy,” Octavian insisted. “It sounded like a prophecy. ”

  No one answered.

  Annabeth wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but she understood that Percy was on the verge of big trouble.

  She forced a laugh. “Really, Octavian? Maybe harpies are different here, on the Roman side. Ours have just enough intelligence to clean cabins and cook lunches. Do yours usually foretell the future? Do you consult them for your auguries?”

  Her words had the intended effect. The Roman officers laughed nervously. Some sized up Ella, then looked at Octavian and snorted. The idea of a chicken lady issuing prophecies was apparently just as ridiculous to Romans as it was to Greeks.

  “I, uh…” Octavian dropped his teddy bear. “No, but—”

  “She’s just spouting lines from some book,” Annabeth said, “like Hazel suggested. Besides, we already have a real prophecy to worry about. ”

  She turned to Tyson. “Percy’s right. Why don’t you take Ella and Mrs. O’Leary and shadow-travel somewhere for a while. Is Ella okay with that?”

  “‘Large dogs are good,’” Ella said. “Old Yeller, 1957, screenplay by Fred Gipson and William Tunberg. ”

  Annabeth wasn’t sure how to take that answer, but Percy smiled like the problem was solved.

  “Great!” Percy said. “We’ll Iris-message you guys when we’re done and catch up with you later. ”

  The Romans looked at Reyna, waiting for her ruling. Annabeth held her breath.

  Reyna had an excellent poker face. She studied Ella, but Annabeth couldn’t guess what she was thinking.

  “Fine,” the praetor said at last. “Go. ”

  “Yay!” Tyson went around the couches and gave everyone a big hug—even Octavian, who didn’t look happy about it. Then he climbed on Mrs. O’Leary’s back with Ella, and the hellhound bounded out of the forum. They dove straight into a shadow on the Senate House wall and disappeared.

  “Well. ” Reyna set down her uneaten apple. “Octavian is right about one thing. We must gain the senate’s approval before we let any of our legionnaires go on a quest—especially one as dangerous as you’re suggesting. ”

  “This whole thing smells of treachery,” Octavian grumbled. “That trireme is not a ship of peace!”

  “Come aboard, man,” Leo offered. “I’ll give you a tour. You can steer the boat, and if you’re really good I’ll give you a little paper captain’s hat to wear. ”

  Octavian’s nostrils flared. “How dare you—”

  “It’s a good idea,” Reyna said. “Octavian, go with him. See the ship. We’ll convene a senate meeting in one hour. ”

  “But…” Octavian stopped. Apparently he could tell from Reyna’s expression that further arguing would not be good for his health. “Fine. ”

  Leo got up. He turned to Annabeth, and his smile changed. It happened so quickly, Annabeth thought she’d imagined it; but just for a moment someone else seemed to be standing in Leo’s place, smiling coldly with a cruel light in his eyes. Then Annabeth blinked, and Leo was just regular old Leo again, with his usual impish grin.

  “Back soon,” he promised. “This is gonna be epic. ”

  A horrible chill settled over her. As Leo and Octavian headed for the rope ladder, she thought about calling them back—but how could she explain that? Tell everyone she was going crazy, seeing things and feeling cold?

  The wind spirits began clearing the plates.

  “Uh, Reyna,” Jason said, “if you don’t mind, I’d like to show Piper around before the senate meeting. She’s never seen New Rome. ”

  Reyna’s expression hardened.

  Annabeth wondered how Jason could be so dense. Was it possible he really didn’t understand how much Reyna liked him? It was obvious enough to Annabeth. Asking to show his new girlfriend around Reyna’s city was rubbing salt in a wound.

  “Of course,” Reyna said coldly.

  Percy took Annabeth’s hand. “Yeah, me, too. I’d like to show Annabeth—”

  “No,” Reyna snapped.

  Percy knit his eyebrows. “Sorry?”

  “I’d like a few words with Annabeth,” Reyna said. “Alone. If you don’t mind, my fellow praetor. ”

  Her tone made it clear she wasn’t really asking permission.

  The chill spread down Annabeth’s back. She wondered what Reyna was up to. Mayb
e the praetor didn’t like the idea of two guys who had rejected her giving their girlfriends tours of her city. Or maybe there was something she wanted to say in private. Either way, Annabeth was reluctant to be alone and unarmed with the Roman leader.

  “Come, daughter of Athena. ” Reyna rose from her couch. “Walk with me. ”

  Chapter 4

  Annabeth wanted to hate New Rome. But as an aspiring architect, she couldn’t help admiring the terraced gardens, the fountains and temples, the winding cobblestone streets and gleaming white villas. After the Titan War last summer, she’d gotten her dream job of redesigning the palaces of Mount Olympus. Now, walking through this miniature city, she kept thinking, I should have made a dome like that. I love the way those columns lead into that courtyard. Whoever designed New Rome had clearly poured a lot of time and love into the project.

  “We have the best architects and builders in the world,” Reyna said, as if reading her thoughts. “Rome always did, in the ancient times. Many demigods stay on to live here after their time in the legion. They go to our university. They settle down to raise families. Percy seemed interested in this fact. ”

  Annabeth wondered what that meant. She must have scowled more fiercely than she realized, because Reyna laughed.

  “You’re a warrior, all right,” the praetor said. “You’ve got fire in your eyes. ”

  “Sorry. ” Annabeth tried to tone down the glare.

  “Don’t be. I’m the daughter of Bellona. ”

  “Roman goddess of war?”

  Reyna nodded. She turned and whistled like she was hailing a cab. A moment later, two metal dogs raced toward them—automaton greyhounds, one silver and one gold. They brushed against Reyna’s legs and regarded Annabeth with glistening ruby eyes.

  “My pets,” Reyna explained. “Aurum and Argentum. You don’t mind if they walk with us?”

  Again, Annabeth got the feeling it wasn’t really a request. She noted that the greyhounds had teeth like steel arrowheads. Maybe weapons weren’t allowed inside the city, but Reyna’s pets could still tear her to pieces if they chose.

  Reyna led her to an outdoor café, where the waiter clearly knew her. He smiled and handed her a to-go cup, then offered one to Annabeth.

  “Would you like some?” Reyna asked. “They make wonderful hot chocolate. Not really a Roman drink—”

  “But chocolate is universal,” Annabeth said.

  “Exactly. ”

  It was a warm June afternoon, but Annabeth accepted the cup with thanks. The two of them walked on, Reyna’s gold and silver dogs roaming nearby.

  “In our camp,” Reyna said, “Athena is Minerva. Are you familiar with how her Roman form is different?”

  Annabeth hadn’t really considered it before. She remembered the way Terminus had called Athena that goddess, as if she were scandalous. Octavian had acted like Annabeth’s very existence was an insult.

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