━━ chapter two

━━ ELISA HAD FELT out of place many times in her lifeback in Durango, those two years on the streets when people would avoid a homeless kid like her, that quest to save Artemis and Annabeth when she knew nobody with her but Grover, her first weeks at Camp Half-Blood when she didn't have friends like Drew and only her brothers to talk to. But here, all those times seemed insignificant.

               All things considered, Elisa seemed invited at a glance. She was offered a seat at one of the long tables, a nice seat too where she could lounge in the softness of the stuffed seat; Percy even sat by her, knocking his knee against her's gently, intertwining their hands under the table, smiling at her every time she looked at him. She was even offered food and drinks by passing air spirits. She would shake hands and nod at senior officers; she would smile and be as polite as she could be despite feeling as if her skin was crawling. She even met Percy's friendsHazel, Frank, and Abilene. She wasn't sure what to make of them at first: they all seemed nice enough, but even they shifted and exchanged glances like they were unsure of what to do themselves. But they weren't rude; they were kind and welcoming. Elisa discussed with Hazel why she used cavalry weapons despite her height, with Frank she spoke about panthers ( he had a weird fascination with her dad's patron animals, but Percy only shrugged when she asked why ), and Abilene and she spent several minutes discussing plants.

               But Elisa knew she wasn't welcomed at Camp Jupiter. She wasn't wanted. She was on edge, the same on edge as when she was trying to make it to Camp Half-Blood for those two years. Her shoulders were rigid, she kept checking and double-checking every entrance, she kept looking over to anything that could be a weapon, looking for quick ways to escape the room in case things went totally south. She counted the heads of every Romanmaking sure to be aware of how many were sitting at her table, how many were currently standing, and how many were sitting at tables around her. She felt like she couldn't breathe, too focused on how out of place she felt.

               Elisa forced herself to breathe through her nose, sitting up straighter as she scanned the table again. She knew why she felt so on edgeshe was Greek, and she was a Greek in a very Roman place. It didn't help that the ichor that flowed through her made her much more acutely aware than any regular mortal; demigods were labeled with ADHD, but it wasn't. It was survival instincts. And right now, Elisa felt like prey surrounded by a hoard of smiling predators. It was written into her DNA from the Greek ichor that she needed to avoid anything Roman, but here she was, eating with them. She didn't know if she was the prey, or if all those Roman half-bloods looked at her like she was the predator ready to maul them to bits. She supposed she wouldn't blame them if they did look at her like thatshe had flown in on a massive Greek warship with their old praetor declaring that they needed to make peace after millenniums of fighting.

               She wished she had an appetite, too. The Romans knew how to eat. The wind spiritsauraekept swirling overhead, bringing endless amounts of pizzas, sandwiches, chips, cold drinks, and fresh-baked cookies. Drifting through the crowd were purple ghostsLares, Percy called themin togas and legionnaire armor. Around the edges of the feast, satyrs ( no, fauns ) trotted from table to table, panhandling for food and spare change. In the nearby fields, the war elephant frolicked with Mrs. O'Leary, and children played tag around the statues of Terminus that lined the city limits.

               It was all so ... friendly. It gave Elisa vertigo. She was supposed to be an enemy here, yet, they were treating her like a honored guest.

               Percy also played a part in the vertigo she felt. It felt strange to sit beside her boyfriend again. It was strange to be able to glance over and see his face; even more weird to have him constantly smiling at her. She forgot just how smiley he was.

               She grabbed his hand, ducking her head to frown at the table slightly. She held it tightly, grateful for the warmth of his hand. It helped her be sure that this was real and not some horrible her dream had decided to fabricate. She was scared that if she blinked, he'd be gone all over again. He glanced at her, his eyebrows pinching together, but her linked their fingers and squeezed her hand.

               She didn't want to be sitting at this table, trying to pretend that she liked rubbing elbows with these Romans. But she also knew what was at stakethe entire world. As much as she would've liked to have spent time with Percy, she knew that she needed to help build goodwill between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter. Reyna and a few of her officers ( including the blond kid Octavian, freshly back from burning a teddy bear for the gods ) sat with Elisa and the others that had flown over via the Argo II; Percy had joined the table with his three new friends, Abilene, Frank, and Hazel.

               As a tornado of food platters settled onto the table, Percy leaned over and whispered, "I want to show you around New Rome. Just you and me. The place is incredible." He gave her a small smile, waiting for her answer, positive he would get the answer he wanted, which had to be a Yes.

               Elisa wanted to say Yes, and she knew if she blinked at him like a deer in headlights any longer, he would finally pick up that she was uncomfortable. He could read her easily now; it was a perk and a con dating someone who could read you so easily. Perk: Elisa often didn't have to bring herself to tell him any issues that she may have. Con: she could never hide the fact that there might be a problem from Percy. And Percy had a major issue in letting people deal with their problems.

               She didn't want to disappoint him. Clearly, Percy had grown fond of this place, though she had no idea how he could. And she should've been thrilled that Percy wanted to talk to heralone, at that. That was exactly what Elisa wanted at the very moment. Instead, she looked down at their intertwined hands and a new tattoo covering his inner arm. He had an SPQR mark, just like the one Jason had, only Percy had one line instead of the twelve Jason had. Unlike Camp Half-Blood, where campers got yearly beads at the end of the summer session to commemorate the years of training, Camp Jupiter seemed to find it fitting to brand their campers like they were some cows. Each line represented a year of training. But to Elisa, it only read You belong to us. Permanently.

               Bitter, nasty resentment got lodged in Elisa's throat. Hearing her boyfriend speak so enthusiastically about Camp Jupiter made her chest tighten. What about Camp Half-Bloodtheir Camp? Their home? What about the Big House where they tried to figure out how to play pinochle together? What about the docks where they became a couple? Or the stables where Percy helped Elisa become a better pegasus rider? Or the campfires where they sang the songs ridiculously loud? Or the training grounds where they learned about each other?

               But she didn't want to disappoint him. The place had become something important to him. Something about this place had drawn him in, only she didn't know what it was. And as horrible as she felt for feeling the way she did, she refused to let those feelings bleed over to Percy. So, Elisa clamped her mouth shut and tried for a nod. "Yeah. I mean, sure."

               Percy glanced at her once, then twice. He nervously started tugging at the purple praetor robes, and Elisa tried not to scowl at the sign of leadership. "I, uh" He cleared his throat, and she snapped her eyes to look up at him as if to say Go on. "I've been thinking," he said nervously. "I had this idea"

               He stopped as Reyna called a toast to friendship. Elisa let out a small Humph, grabbed her grape soda, and took a sip. If only Percy talked a little faster ...

               She knew whatever Percy was going to tell her couldand would have to waitbecause creating friendly ties between the two camps was the only way to stop the Earth Mother from destroying the entire world.

               After introductions all around, the Romans and those on the Argo II began exchanging stories. Jason explained how he'd arrived at Camp Half-Blood without his memory, and how he'd gone on a quest with Elisa, Delaney, Piper, and Leo to rescue the goddess Hera ( or Juno, take your pickshe was always going to be a pain in the ass whether Greek or Roman ) from imprisonment at the Wolf House in northern California.

               "Impossible!" Octavian broke in, flushed red with anger. "That's our most sacred place. If the giants had imprisoned a goddess there"

               "They would've destroyed her," Piper broke in, her tone clipping and sharp. "And blamed it on the Greeks, and started a war between the camps. Now, be quiet and let Jason finish."

               Octavian opened his mouth to object, but fortunately for them all, no sound came out. Leo sent the blond a look of mock pity; Elisa snorted and quickly took another sip of her drink. It was moments like these where Elisa re-learned of her appreciation for Piper's charmspeak.

               "So," Jason continued, spinning the silver ring Delaney had given him, "that's how we found out about the Earth Goddess Gaea. She's still half asleep, but she's the one freeing the monsters from Tartarus and raising the giants. Porphyrion, the big leader dude we fought at the Wolf House: he said he was retreating to the ancient landsGreece itself. He plans on awakening Gaea and destroying the gods by ... What did he call it?"

               "Pulling up their roots," Elisa answered for him, leaning forward against the table. "That's what Porphyrion said."

               Percy nodded thoughtfully. "Gaea's been busy over here, too," he decided, sending Elisa a fleeting glance. "We had our own encounter with Queen Dirt Face." Then he recounted his side of the story. He talked about waking up at the Wolf House with no memories except for one nameElisa.

               When she heard that, Elisa wasn't sure what to do with the information. She swallowed hard, feeling a sudden wave of all sorts of emotions. All those months, she was worriedterrified, reallythat Percy would have no idea who she was, or who they had been. Instead, he knew nothing but her name. The whole time she was worried, but it was her that he remembered. She watched him, part in pity, part in shock, half-hearing as he recounted the rest of the talehow he traveled to Alaska with Frank, Abilene, and Hazel, defeated the giant Alcyoneus, freed the Death God Thanatos, and returned with the lost golden eagle standard of the Roman camp to repel an attack by the giants' army.

               "Um ..." Percy pursed his lips, looking over to his questmates who went with him to Alaska; Abilene looked up from her water quickly, her expression pained. "We also learned Abilene" he motioned to the mousy brown-headed girl "is Gaea's ... kid. But Abi fights for us, I swear. She had plenty of chances to give usme, Frank, and Hazelover to Gaea, but she never did."

               "Hold on." Leo pointed a spindly finger at the girl. "Gaea has mortal kids? I thought she, like, was still sleeping" He peered closer to Abilene, his eyes narrowed. "How are you so old?"

               "Leo!" hissed Piper, trying to grab one of his arms to pull him back down into his seat. But the son of Hephaestus waved her off, watching Abilene with suspicious eyes.

               Frank sat up, his eyebrows pinched. "Hang on"

               Abilene held a hand out to the boy, giving him an It's okay type of look. ( Elisa was sure of it now: Abilene and Frank were dating. ) "Gaea has woken up times before," she told Leo, her tone gentle, but she looked like she just swallowed a boulder. "Once back in the 1930s, then around the mid-90sjust long enough to must my dad's mortalness to have a kid. This has been in planning for a long time. Her ... takeover, I mean. She always planned that I would give this camp and my friends up."

               "Only you didn't," Frank assured, locking eyes with her.

               Abilene quickly looked back down at her water.

               Elisa eyed the girl, her expression apprehensive. Sure, she tried not to judge others for their parents. Hell, her dad was Dionysus. Do you know how many kids hated him for his attitude when he was at Camp Half-Blood? But still, she couldn't help itlearning Gaea had a kid like she was just another goddess that got around threw Elisa's mind for a loop. And Elisa was used to mindfucks; she did have some control over madness, here. Besides, anyone could turn at any moment. Or Abilene could be playing the long game; the way Silena did. Or maybe Elisa should have a little faith in demigods.

               But she had seen too many demigods also lose faith, too. Only, they lost faith in the gods. Lost faith in their parents.

               Percy sent Abilene apologetic glances. "Look, I just had to get it out there. Before anyone could ... twist it." He not-so-subtly ( because Percy was never subtle ) glanced in the direction of Octavian, and Elisa became much more assured in her read of him.

               Jason raised his eyebrows. "Well, no wonder they made you praetor," he told Percy.

               Octavian snorted. Happy to have the chance to speak again, he leaned forward and sneered, "Which means we now have three praetors! The rules clearly state we can only have two!"

               Elisa looked Octavian up and down, her eyebrows raised so far they practically disappeared into her hairline. She opened her mouth to ask what his problem was, but Percy spoke before she could. "Hey, look on the bright side" he started, "both Jason and I outrank you, Octavian. So we can both tell you to shut up."

               She glanced at her boyfriend, sighing quietly. He hadn't changed.

               Octavian flushed as purple as his Camp T-shirt. Jason grinned and reached over the wooden table to give Percy a fist bump. Even Reyna managed a smile, though her eyes were stormy.

               "We'll have to figure out the extra praetor problem later," she decided quickly. "Right now we have more serious issues to deal with."

               Percy shrugged as he sat back down. "I'll step aside for Jason," he said easily. "It's no biggie."

               "No biggie?" choked Octavian, his purple face now turning red. "The praetorship of Rome is no biggie?"

               Ignoring him, Percy turned to Jason. "So ... you're Thalia Grace's brother, huh?" He surveyed Jason, raising his eyebrows. "Wow. You guys look nothing alike."

               "Yeah, I noticed." Jason frowned, seemingly perturbed by Percy's assessment. Elisa nudged her boyfriend gently, trying to tell him that the topic of Jason's sister was a touchy one. "Anyway, thanks for helping my camp while I was gone. You did an awesome job."

               "Back at you," Percy said.

               From across the table, Annabeth kicked Percy's shin. He took in a sharp breath between his teeth, and he gave her an estranged look. However, Annabeth quickly returned the look with one of her own. Elisa understood why Annabeth did what she didthey needed to move on, even if Percy and Jason were having a budding bromance.

               Elisa cleared her throat. "Yeah, that's great, you two. Look, we need to talk about the Great Prophecy?" She glanced at Reyna, figuring she would be the easiest one to speak to. "Do you Romans know about it, too?"

               Reyna nodded. "We call it the Prophecy of Nine. Octavian, you have it committed to memory?"

               "Of course," he said. "But, Reyna"

               "Recite it, please. In English, not Latin."

               Octavian's jaw ticked, and Elisa could tell he was debating whether to directly disobey Reyna just to prove a petty point. But he gave a miffed sigh and began: "Nine half-bloods shall answer the call/A daughter's revenge, she stands tall/To storm or fire the world must fall"

               "An oath to keep with a final breath," Annabeth continued, making Elisa look at her sharply. "Alike in minds, two search the depth/And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death."

               Everyone stared at the daughter of Athenaexcept for Leo, who had constructed a pinwheel out of aluminum foil taco wrappers and was sticking it into passing wind spirits. Apparently, that pinwheel was far more fascinating than a prophecy that could predict the end of the world.

               Annabeth flushed, slightly sinking in her seat. Elisa sent her a questioning look: What was that all about? The look read with pinched eyebrows and a slight headshake.

               Frank quickly sat forward, watching Annabeth with slight fascination as if she'd grown a third eye. "Is it true you're a child of MinI mean, Athena?"

               "Yes," she said, her chin drawing down as she frowned at him. "Why is that such a surprise?"

               Elisa rolled her eyes slightly. "Because Athena's supposed to be a virginOw!" She brought up her left leg, rubbing her shin gently. She glared at Annabeth, who sneered at her.

               Frank looked at Elisa, and she suddenly understood why Annabeth had become so defensive. She felt like an animal on display at a zoo as Frank stared at her. "And you're BaccDionysus's kid?"

               "Yeah," she replied simply, her expression unimpressed. "He's not a virgin, so don't act so surprised to see me."

               Frank flushed a bright red. Maybe there weren't people here who were as vulgar as Elisa. For a second, she felt badFrank was just asking a simple question. And sure, she didn't look a lot like the statues of Dionysus ( or Bacchus, whatever ).

               Octavian was frowning at Annabeth, his expression bordering on disgust. "If you're truly a child of the Wisdom Goddess"

               "Enough," Reyna snapped, her hand raised, palm facing Octavian. "Annabeth is what she says. She's here in peace. Besides ..." She gave the daughter of Athena a look of grudging respect. "Percy has spoken highly of you. And of Elisa."

               Elisa stopped having a staredown with that kid named Frank to look up. She was stumped at the almost-compliment from the girl who looked like she would rather swallow a clump of dirt than say that. But the undertones in Reyna's voice took her a minute to decipher, and she kept glancing over as Percy suddenly became very interested at the wooden grooves of the table.

               Then it struck Elisa like a smack to the back of the head. Percy turned Reyna down for her. Her head felt like it was a hot-air balloonfilled entirely with hot air as her entire face heated up like lava. She suddenly was extremely aware of how much space she took up, and her shoulders curled in on her frame. She didn't know what to say now, especially with how bitter Reyna sounded when she gave the compliment.

               "Um ..." Elisa glanced Annabeth's way, but her friend only shared the look.  "Right. I meanthanks." But low under her breath, she added; "I think."

               "At any rate," started Annabeth, and Elisa was grateful for the subject switch, "some of the prophecy is becoming clear. Foes bearing arms to the Doors of Death ... that means Romans and Greeks. We have to combine forces to find those doors."

               From the corner of her eye, she noticed the girl named Hazel quickly snatch something from next to her plate. For a second, Elisa swore she thought it looked like a large ruby. But just as she saw it, it was goneHazel tucked whatever it was into the pocket of her denim shirt.

               "My brother, Nico, went looking for the doors," she then said, smoothing her shirt down as subtly as she could.

               Elisa looked past Percy, half-tempted to push his head out of her way. "Nico di Angelo?" she asked. "Like ... Nico? And he's your brother?"

               Many frowned at her for her phrasing, but she didn't care. She was taken aback to find out people knew who Nico was here, let alone to learn that he apparently had a sister. Her skin crawled even moreNico had a half-sister, and it was clear Hazel cared for him. Her tongue seemed to swell, and Elisa chewed on the end of it to bite back a nasty question ( the question: How close are you and Nico? ) It was validHow well did Hazel know Nico? She couldn't know him better than Elisa. Elisa's known Nico since he was ten and she was thirteen. They made it to Camp Half-Blood together, and they managed to make it through the Labyrinth, too.

               Hazel nodded as if Elisa's questions were obvious. A dozen more questions crowded into Elisa's mind ( and all of them could come off as nasty and bitter ), but her world was already spinning like Leo's pinwheel. She frowned, her expression painful-looking. But she sat back and choked out, "Okay. What about Nico?"

               "He disappeared." Hazel licked her lips nervously. "I'm afraid ... I'm not sure, but I think something's happened to him."

               "We'll look for him," Percy promised. He grabbed Elisa's hand from underneath the table as her jaw jutted out. He squeezed it tightly as if to say Trust me. Please. "We have to find the Doors of Death anyway. Thanatos told us we'd find both answers in Romelike, the original Rome. That's on the way to Greece, right?"

               "Thanatos told you this?" Annabeth shook her head slightly, looking bewildered by all the revelations. "The Death God?"

               "He's actually not that bad of a guy," he admitted. Percy poked at the top bun of his burger with a fry. "Now that Death is free, monsters will disintegrate and return to Tartarus again like they used to. But as long as the Doors of Death are open, they'll just keep coming back."

               Piper nodded slightly. A strand of hair was wrapped around her finger. "Like water leaking through a dam," she suggested.

               "Yeah." Percy's cheek twitched. "We've got a dam hole."

               Elisa sighed and rolled her eyes. The word play was funny years ago, but because she was delirious with grief and lack of sleep. Now, it wasn't as funny. And her expression said as much when Percy nudged her with his elbow.

               Piper frowned, looking perplexed. "What?" she asked, looking between the two of them.

               "Nothing, Piper," assured Elisa. "Percy's just ... Percy."

               He quickly frowned at her, grabbing her elbow before she could jab him in the side. "That was funny," he insisted. "Anyway, point is, we'll have to find the doors and close them before we can head to Greece. It's the only way we'll stand a chance of defeating the giants and making sure they stay defeated."

               Reyna plucked an apple from a passing fruit tray. She turned it in her fingers, studying the dark red surface. "You propose an expedition to Greece in your warship. You do realize that the ancient landsand the Mare Nostrumare dangerous?"

               Leo perked up at the name, finding interest in the conversation now instead of sticking pinwheels into passing wind spirits. "Mary who?"

               "Mare Nostrum," Jason explained. "Our Sea. It's what the Ancient Romans called the Mediterranean."

               Reyna nodded. "The territory that was once the Roman Empire is not only the birthplace of the gods. It's also the ancestral home of the monsters, Titans and giants ..." she took a breath, "and worse things. As dangerous as travel is for demigods here in America, there it would be ten times worse."

               "You said Alaska would be bad," Percy reminded her. "We survived that."

               Reyna shook her head. Her fingernails cut little crescents into the apple as she turned it over. "Percy, traveling in the Mediterranean is a different level of danger altogether. It's been off-limits to Roman demigods for centuries. No hero in his right mind would go there."

               "Then we're good!" Leo grinned over the top of his pinwheel. "Because we're all crazy, right? Besides, the Argo II is a top-of-the-line warship. She'll get us through."

               Elisa frowned at him. "Your choice of words felt personal, Elf Ears."

               "Wha" He glanced at her, frowning. Then, his mouth made a small O. "No, it wasn't. You get what I meannot crazy like that, crazy as in ..." he thought for a moment, "bad assessment of danger!"

               Jason shook his head, deciding, "We'll have to hurry. I don't know exactly what the giants are planning, but Gaea is growing more conscious all the time. She's invading dreams, appearing in weird places, summoning more and more powerful monsters. We have to stop the giants before they can wake her up fully."

               Annabeth shuddered. "Nine half-bloods must answer the call," she said. "It needs to be a mix from both our camps. Jason, Piper, Leo, Elisa, and me. That's five."

               "And me," continued Percy, glancing over to his new three friends. "Along with Hazel and Abilene and Frank. That's nine."

               The decisions made Octavian shoot to his feet with a horrified expression. "What?! We're just supposed to accept that? Without a vote in the senate? Without a proper debate? Without"

               Elisa huffed and lolled her head back. If she was Reyna, she would've booted him from Camp Jupiter long ago.

               "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 seena 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. On the hellhound's back sat a harpy, but Elisa could barely just tell it was a harpy she had seen at Camp before. This harpy was small and thinga sickly-looking girl with stringy red hair, a brown sack for a dress, and red-feathered wings.

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

               "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 from Piper to Elisa, jabbing a finger at the harpy. "Did that chicken girl just compare my ship to the Titanic?"

               "She's not a chicken," Hazel corrected him. But when he glanced at her, she quickly averted her eyes as if he made her nervous; Elisa quirked her eyebrows at that, Leo was anything but intimidating. "Ella's a harpy. She's just a little ... high-strung."

               "That's one way of saying it ..." agreed Abilene, pulling a face to herself.

               "Ella is scared," Tyson said. "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 shot to his feet, his expression anxious. "Maybe it's not the best time"

               "The Mark of Athena burns through Rome," Ella continued, raising her voice as she cupped her hands over her ears. "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 with all shared looks of shock. No one spokebut Elisa could hear people's breaths hitch, and she could see their eyes widen. But Elisa quickly looked at Annabeth, and Annabeth stared back from across the table. Annabeth shook her head, and Elisa got the message: Don't say a word. Elisa frowned, but obeyed. It wasn't her coin that was in Annabeth's pocket right now, and it wasn't her mother who told her to follow the Mark of Athena ...

               Whatever the hell Mark of Athena meant.

               Percy was the first to recover. He stood and took Tyson's arm."I know!" he exclaimed 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 trembling hands. His eyes fixed on Ellain a starved predator way. The way a starving lion would stare at a gazel. "What was that she said? It sounded like"

               "Ella reads a lot," Frank rushed, tripping over his own words with a bead of sweat trickling down his neck. "We found her at a library."

               "Yes!" Hazel nodded adamantly. "Probably just something she read in a book."

               "Books," Ella muttered helpfully. "Ella likes books."

               Abilene looked from Frank, Hazel, and Percy, then over to Ella. Her expression was bordering on panic. "Um ... yeah, she likes reading. Always gives really random lines, you know."

               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.

               Elisa looked between Frank, Hazel, Abilene, and Percy. It was clear they were all hiding something, and that between the four of them, zero were good liars. Even if she had no idea that Annabeth had a burning coin from her mother, Elisa would still be able to figure out that what Ella just recitedthe lines about angel's breath, the key to endless death, and giants' bane, and woven jailwas definitely a prophecy.

               Percy quickly shook his head when he and Elisa locked eyes. But his eyes held a desperate plea for help.

               "That was a prophecy," Octavian insisted. "It sounded like a prophecy."

               No one answered.

               As startled as she was, she knew Percy had to be keeping something revolving around Ella a secret or a reason. So she forced an airy laugh through her nose and rested her hands on the table to lean up. "Look, Octavian, my dad isn't God of Prophecy and all, but I'm pretty good at picking prophecies out. Thatwhatever that harpy spewedwasn't a prophecy." Her tone was scathing, but not hotheaded, and it bordered on mocking.

               Octavian started to flush red. "Excuse me?"

               "You heard me," she told him, but her tone was light and airy. She gave him a tight-lipped smile; a smile you'd give a stranger on the street. "I mean, you've surely heard a prophecy before, right? You're, like, an augur or something. Honestly, I don't know much about augurs—guess they weren't important enoughbut I would also hope that you know harpies aren't known for ... premonition abilities. I mean" she spread her hands, shrugging dramatically "maybe harpies are different here, on the Roman side. Oursyou know, Greekhave just enough brains to clean and cook. Do yours usually foretell the future? Do you consult them for your auguries?"

               She gave the blond a sickeningly sweet smile as some Roman officers started to laugh under their breaths. They would glance at Ella's way, seizing the harpy up like a potential enemy, but then would glance at Octavian and start snickering louder. 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. His nostrils flared as the teddy bear fell to the ground with a soft thud! "I do not, but"

               "She's just spouting lines from some book," Annabeth broke in, her lips pursed, "like the others 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 rattled off. "Old Yeller, 1957, screenplay by Fred Gipson and William Tunberg."

               Elisa looked around, unsure of how to take that answer, but Percy smiled like the problem was solved.

               "Great!" he 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. And Elisa found herself holding her breath. Reyna had an excellent poker faceshe studied Ella, but what the look read, Elisa couldn't tell.

               "Fine," the praetor said at last. "Go."

               "Yay!" Tyson went around the couches and gave everyone a big hugeven 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. She hadn't even taken a single bite. "Octavian is right about one thing. We must gain the senate's approval before we let any of our legionnaires go on a questespecially one as dangerous as you're suggesting."

               "This whole thing smells of treachery," grumbled Octavian, shooting Elisa nasty looks. "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."

               Elisa smothered a smile as Octavian's nostrils flared. "How dare you"

               "It's a good idea," Reyna cut him off. "Octavian, go with him. See the ship. We'll convene a senate meeting in one hour."

               "But ..." Octavian trailed off. He huffed as he apparently recognized the look on Reyna's facearguing with her would not end well. "Fine."

               Leo grinned as he stood up. As he did so, he turned to Elisaand for a split second, his smile changed. It happened so quickly, she was sure she had imagined it, but therethere for less than a secondit looked like someone had been standing in Leo's place. And that stranger's smile was cold and cruel, and there was a vicious glint in his eyes that made her blood run cold. But she blinked, and Leo was back to being Leo again, with his impish grin.

               "Back soon," he promised. "This is gonna be epic."

               The cold was back again, and it pressed against her like an overly friendly creep. She took a sharp breath, fighting the urge to stand up and stop Leo and Octavian. But she stayed rooted in her seat. How could she explain why she wanted them to stop? Tell everyone she was crazy as Dionysus's daughter, that she was seeing things, and that she was feeling this cold "press against her"?

               The wind spirits began clearing the plates.

               "Uh, Reyna," Jason said, "I'll show Piper around, if you don't mind. She's always said she'd love to see New Rome when I would tell the others about the place."

               Reyna's eyes flickered down to the silver ring Jason wore. Elisa wondered what the girl was thinkingwhether Jason and Piper were a thing. Or wondering who had given Jason a ring he never would've worn otherwise?

               "Of course," Reyna said coldly.

               Percy grasped at his chance. He grabbed and squeezed Elisa's hand. "Yeah, me too. I mean, not with Jason, but I'd like to show Elisa around."

               She didn't know what to say to thatwhether to be gleeful she was going to get to spend time with Percy, or bothered by all the things she'd learned. As the groups split apart, Jason and Piper left, talking adamantly about the things she wanted to see, or Annabeth being asked to speak with Reyna alone, Elisa chewed on her feelings.

               "You didn't sound that worried Nico's missing."

               That should've been the last thing she said, but she also knew why she said itshe was looking for a fight. It was that nasty sting that enveloped her like a hug that was made out of lava. She was feeling emotions she was having trouble processing, like having Percy back but now aware that Nico knew of Camp Jupiter and that he was missing now, so she took that out on the person nearest herPercy.

               He frowned at her. "I didn't have a chance to, until, like, now."

               "No, Hazel said something. And I don't even know her!"

               "Elisa ..." He reached for her, but she stood up. "Look, I should've told you, but"

               "I'll go find Jason and Piper," she decided, her voice icy. "Let's see if they keep anything from me, huh?"

👑 APR. 5TH, 2024 / as much as elisa has grown since the titan's curse, she can always be a bitch! and i admire that about her 😌

i always knew elisa was going to have a problem with camp jupiter and their different methods compared to camp half-blood, and mainly because percy got kidnapped LMAO like if percy hadn't, she'd be like "oh, at least the campers are good fighters even though you brand like their livestock ..." but since percy did, she's like "i hate everything, and i don't have to explain myself!"

and elisa learning nico has a half-sister *sobs* she does not like the fact that nico has what is technically is his "actual" sister. she keeps having her shit rocked, and i fear that will not end for a long time

this chapter wasn't going to end where it did, buT i think it's better i end it here (and so i can post it too huhuhu)

anyways, thoughts? opinions??

(not edited, nor proofread)