Annabeth grabbed the railing to keep her balance.
“Yes,” Reyna said, seeing her discomfort. “He kept muttering about wisdom’s child, the Mark of Athena, and the giants’ bane standing pale and gold. The same lines Ella was just reciting. But you say that you’ve never heard them before today?”
“Not—not the way Ella said them. ” Annabeth’s voice was weak. She wasn’t lying. She’d never heard that prophecy, but her mother had charged her with following the Mark of Athena; and as she thought about the coin in her pocket, a horrible suspicion began taking root in her mind. She remembered her mother’s scathing words. She thought about the strange nightmares she’d been having lately. “Did this demigod—did he explain his quest?”
Reyna shook her head. “At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. Much later, when I became praetor of Camp Jupiter, I began to suspect. ”
“There is an old legend that the praetors of Camp Jupiter have passed down through the centuries. If it’s true, it may explain why our two groups of demigods have never been able to work together. It may be the cause of our animosity. Until this old score is finally settled, so the legend goes, Romans and Greeks will never be at peace. And the legend centers on Athena—”
A shrill sound pierced the air. Light flashed in the corner of Annabeth’s eye.
She turned in time to see an explosion blast a new crater in the forum. A burning couch tumbled through the air. Demigods scattered in panic.
“Giants?” Annabeth reached for her dagger, which of course wasn’t there. “I thought their army was defeated!”
“It isn’t the giants. ” Reyna’s eyes seethed with rage. “You’ve betrayed our trust. ”
As soon as she said it, the Argo II launched a second volley. Its port ballista fired a massive spear wreathed in Greek fire, which sailed straight through the broken dome of the Senate House and exploded inside, lighting up the building like a jack-o’-lantern. If anyone had been in there…
“Gods, no. ” A wave of nausea almost made Annabeth’s knees buckle. “Reyna, it isn’t possible. We’d never do this!”
The metal dogs ran to their mistress’s side. They snarled at Annabeth but paced uncertainly, as if reluctant to attack.
“You’re telling the truth,” Reyna judged. “Perhaps you were not aware of this treachery, but someone must pay. ”
Down in the forum, chaos was spreading. Crowds were pushing and shoving. Fistfights were breaking out.
“Bloodshed,” Reyna said.
“We have to stop it!”
Annabeth had a horrible feeling this might be the last time Reyna and she ever acted in agreement, but together they ran down the hill.
If weapons had been allowed in the city, Annabeth’s friends would have already been dead. The Roman demigods in the forum had coalesced into an angry mob. Some threw plates, food, and rocks at the Argo II, which was pointless, as most of the stuff fell back into the crowd.
Several dozen Romans had surrounded Piper and Jason, who were trying to calm them without much luck. Piper’s charmspeak was useless against so many screaming, angry demigods. Jason’s forehead was bleeding. His purple cloak had been ripped to shreds. He kept pleading, “I’m on your side!” but his orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt didn’t help matters—nor did the warship overhead, firing flaming spears into New Rome. One landed nearby and blasted a toga shop to rubble.
“Pluto’s pauldrons,” Reyna cursed. “Look. ”
Armed legionnaires were hurrying toward the forum. Two artillery crews had set up catapults just outside the Pomerian Line and were preparing to fire at the Argo II.
“That’ll just make things worse,” Annabeth said.
“I hate my job,” Reyna growled. She rushed off toward the legionnaires, her dogs at her side.
Percy, Annabeth thought, scanning the forum desperately. Where are you?
Two Romans tried to grab her. She ducked past them, plunging into the crowd. As if the angry Romans, burning couches, and exploding buildings weren’t confusing enough, hundreds of purple ghosts drifted through the forum, passing straight through the demigods’ bodies and wailing incoherently. The fauns had also taken advantage of the chaos. They swarmed the dining tables, grabbing food, plates, and cups. One trotted by Annabeth with his arms full of tacos and an entire pineapple between his teeth.
A statue of Terminus exploded into being, right in front of Annabeth. He yelled at her in Latin, no doubt calling her a liar and a rule breaker; but she pushed the statue over and kept running.
Finally she spotted Percy. He and his friends, Hazel and Frank, were standing in the middle of a fountain as Percy repelled the angry Romans with blasts of water. Percy’s toga was in tatters, but he looked unhurt.
Annabeth called to him as another explosion rocked the forum. This time the flash of light was directly overhead. One of the Roman catapults had fired, and the Argo II groaned and tilted sideways, flames bubbling over its bronze-plated hull.
Annabeth noticed a figure clinging desperately to the rope ladder, trying to climb down. It was Octavian, his robes steaming and his face black with soot.
Over by the fountain, Percy blasted the Roman mob with more water. Annabeth ran toward him, ducking a Roman fist and a flying plate of sandwiches.
“Annabeth!” Percy called. “What—?”
“I don’t know!” she yelled.
“I’ll tell you what!” cried a voice from above. Octavian had reached the bottom of the ladder. “The Greeks have fired on us! Your boy Leo has trained his weapons on Rome!”
Annabeth’s chest filled with liquid hydrogen. She felt like she might shatter into a million frozen pieces.
“You’re lying,” she said. “Leo would never—”
“I was just there!” Octavian shrieked. “I saw it with my own eyes!”