She had never felt more alone in her entire life.
Sure, she was used to being alone. Her life had been a constant roller coaster of emotions that had usually involved her family situation. She'd never had what some would call a nice, "normal" childhood, and the absence of that family aspect had turned her into the warrior she was. She technically had three family members, yet she felt like they were all distant relatives one might meet at Thanksgiving or Christmas once a year.
Her sister, Hylla, whom she had been very close with when they were younger, was never around anymore. She was often gone nowadays for days, weeks, months, maybe even a year, consumed with the messy business of being the queen of the Amazons.
Her mother never was, and never had been, present in her life. She was the Roman war goddess, Bellona. The only thing predictable about her was her certainty to never appear in her daughter's life or assist her in anyway. Certainly as a goddess her life would be time-consuming, but a quick chat every now and then would be nice, or an answer to a prayer on the battlefield would be awfully handy. Her daughter had never experienced the true novelty of having a real mother.
If one had been counting down on her fingers, she would have noticed that there was only one family member left besides her sister and her mother: her father.
Her father, Julian, had been an insane, abusive man, whose actions often forced her and her sister to flee the house in fear of his tirades; eventually she had even been forced to stab him in order to prevent him from killing Hylla, which actually resulted in him bleeding to death.
The horrid memories of her father's death, her childhood, and her time serving as a handmaid on Circe's island with her sister haunted her life, in both reality and nightmares.
She'd never had any friends in school because the other kids never wanted to come over to play or hang out. They called her a freak, saying that her house was haunted, that scary ghosts lived inside the walls of her home. And they had been right.
So, yes, she was used to being a loner from the start. But she supposed it was rather fitting for her. It certainly helped with her whole "lone warrior" persona. People compared her to a wolf: strong, wise, independent. That last word, although people rarely said so, was often the unspoken equivalent of lonely. It was word that bit at her heart, threatening to push her to the breaking point, make the constant traces of tears in her eyes spill over.
After her father died when she was young, Reyna had refused to give her heart to anyone else, to love another soul, to allow herself to be broken yet again. For years, Reyna had protected herself from others by wearing a thick gold armor, which she kept on her person at all times. This armor, unlike the armor that she often wore in battle, was not the visible armor of a fierce warrior who prides herself on her accomplishments, but of a meek maid who attempts to mop up her past, covering it up in the ashes of the fireplace. She had spent so much of her life building up that armor, layer by layer, until just recently she had achieved what she thought was invincibility. Yet how odd that the person who would strip away her armor would be one who he himself had just been stripped of his own invincibility.
As Reyna gazed out at the Senate meeting taking place below, her mind went numb at the mention of his name, and her eyes glazed over at the overwhelming thought of her family. Memories, emotions, and thoughts she believed that she had buried long ago were flung in her face, quicker than she could keep up with. She felt her knees buckle, and she slid gracefully down to the ground in a kneeling position as her mind was inundated with a flood of flashbacks.
Hazel burst into the plaza of Camp Jupiter looking wild-eyed.
"Help! Help! New camper! Gorgons!" she cried between gasps of breath, her hands on her knees. Reyna had stood up as soon as she had caught sight of the girl, and now she was already on her way out of the plaza, her long purple praetor cape billowing in the breeze behind her. A herd of advisors and officials trailed behind her. Although Hazel had only been at Camp Jupiter for a little while, less than a year, Reyna still trusted her immensely, which was unusual for her. Other campers joined the march to the entrance of camp, curious as to what all of the commotion was about.
The sun shined brightly in the daytime, and its rays bounced radiantly off of her golden armor. Up ahead, Reyna could see the sentry towers, with the guards inside, and then, to her horror, watched as two gorgons swooped out of the sky and snatched a Roman- Frank, she thought his name was- off the ground. She was just about to begin yelling out orders to the surrounding Romans, when the need was longer necessary. A sudden geyser of water shot up, the source seemingly the Little Tiber that flowed in front of them. Tornadoes of water flanked Frank, keeping him afloat and safe, while the gorgons were hit- no, more like grabbed - by the river, as if two giant hands had pulled them down into the water to their damned deaths.
In fact, the river looked exactly like a pair of hands, reaching up high into the sky. Reyna searched the banks of the river and found the source of the magic: a raven-haired boy standing with his back to the throng of Romans. She watched in fascination and amazement as the river obeyed his commands, bending to his will as the mighty hands grabbed the pair of gorgons and dragged them under the water's surface, where they were seemingly dissolved, pulled apart by the forceful currents of the Tiber.
The remnants of the monsters were swept downstream as the whirlpools around Frank dissolved as well. The entire Roman entourage was staring, gaping and open-mouthed, at the boy in front of them. The crowd surged forward just as the boy turned, and Reyna's view of the young man was blocked by a large sentry standing in front of her.
She could see nothing of the scene in front of her, but she could certainly hear an old woman's gravelly voice say, "Well, that was a lovely trip. Thank you, Percy Jackson, for bringing me to Camp Jupiter."
At the boy's name, Reyna's knees nearly buckled, and she was overcome with an unexplainable weakness. It couldn't be him, could it? The odds were too unlikely. Coincidences like that simply did not occur. She shoved a sentry roughly aside and pushed her way to the front of the crowd to be sure it was him. Sure enough, there he was, standing in all his glory, looking stronger, healthier, and much, much more handsome than the last time she'd seen him, so many years ago.
"Percy...Jackson?" she managed to choke out.
Percy turned to look at her quickly at the sound of his own name, searching the crowd for her. When his eyes came to rest on her and she registered no recognition in them, she was so disappointed that she thought her heart might burst. He didn't remember her.
She stared at him with dark black eyes so full of emotions, so full of longing, that she was sure she looked really creepy and scary. It was just...his face, his name, his presence, they all brought back terrible memories of the nightmare that had been her childhood. Him being there... it made her head spin with the pain it brought back.
Suddenly Reyna caught sight of the old woman who had spoken before and addressed Percy. She gasped with surprise as the woman stood up and began to change form in a bright, surrounding glow, revealing a goddess who towered to about seven-feet tall. She was clad in a dark blue dress with a goat skin draped regally across her shoulders like a feather boa that a snazzy Hollywood actress might wear. She held a wooden staff in her right hand which had the head of a delicate pink lotus flower. It wasn't hard for Reyna to guess who the woman was: a regal goddess who loved to make flashy entrances, and she practically oozed bucket-loads of sophistication and superiority.
With enough reluctance to slow down even the craziest daredevil, Reyna knelt to her knees, and she sensed others following her lead, all bowing their heads in respect to the powerful Roman goddess.
All that is, except Percy.
He stubbornly stared at the goddess, refusing to kneel to the goddess. Reyna suspected that something had happened between Juno and Percy just now that made him falter on the rules of respect around the gods. He looked thoroughly unimpressed by the goddess's display.
"Juno, huh? If I passed your test, can I have my memory and my life back?"
Normally, Reyna would've been appalled that someone could have spoken to a major goddess that way, but it was secretly nice to see that Percy was the same old Percy, relatively unchanged by all of the horrific experiences in his life so far. And he usually tended to do whatever he pleased, and somehow get away with it.
Still, she expected Juno to request at least a lightning bolt or two, or maybe for Percy to get turned into a cow or a peacock. Instead, the goddess just 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. Romans," she said, turning and addressing the crowd of Romans, "I present to you the Son of Neptune. For months he has been slumbering, but now he is awake." Reyna thought that was pretty obvious. "His fate is in your hands. The Feast of Fortuna comes quickly, and Death must be unleashed if you are to stand any hope in the battle. Do not fail me!" she said with one final bellow, and a sweep of her cape. She disappeared in a flurry of sparkles and glimmering light.
With an awkward tension in the air and a sprinkling of mumbling in the crowd behind her, Reyna felt obligated to resume her position as praetor and step forward and say something to this *ahem* stranger. She approached Percy hesitantly, not sure if he would remember her or not if she got closer. His memory of her could be a good thing or a bad thing: good, because he might sense the romantic connection to her that she felt towards him; bad, because he might remember what she, her sister, and her mistress had tried to do to him and his friend those many years ago. So she approached him cautiously.
To make sure he took her seriously, she raised her eyes to his, which was a mistake. How was she supposed to be stern with him when he looked at her with such gorgeous eyes? So green, so much like the sea... Tears formed in her eyes, though she tried not to show it, and her throat constricted with a lump that she failed to swallow.
"So, a son of Neptune who comes to us with a blessing,' she said, and was surprised to find how unpleasantly cold and harsh her voice sounded towards him. Great, she thought to herself. Now he'll definitely hate me. Percy just stared at her with incredulous eyes, as if to say, What's your problem?
"Look, my memory's a little fuzzy. It's gone, actually. Do I know you?"
"I am Reyna, praetor of the Twelfth Legion," she hesitated momentarily. Final decision: should she tell him or not? If she told him now, he may take pity on her and how lonely she was. Or he may try to run her through with a dagger. She made a split-second decision."And...no, I don't know you."
Percy looked doubtful, as if he did have some memory of her, though he just couldn't place it. No doubt he would eventually remember and would want to confront her about it in one way or another. But for now, she was safe. She breathed a small sigh of relief and ordered Hazel to take him away. She couldn't stand to be near him anymore today, for fear her heart would burst.
"What do you mean," he protested, "decide what to do with me?"
Reyna's heart contracted, and she knew exactly what she wanted to do with him; however, she doubted that was hardly appropriate out in public, or appropriate at all. She was so startled by her thoughts that she had to squeeze the hilt of her dagger at her side tightly, forcing herself to think of other things, anything but that. She quickly made some oddly believable excuse about questioning him inside, and he obliged, walking with her, Frank, and Hazel, and her heart feeling like it weighed a million tons.
The memory faded, and with it died the sharp pain that had protruded her skull beforehand, replaced with a dull, pounding headache.
Others looked up to Reyna: respected her, honored her, trusted her. Yet nobody loved her, which was all she really wanted. At one point she had believed that maybe, just maybe, she could have that romantic love with Jason Grace. But he was gone, out of her life for good, and replaced with Percy. It seemed a sign to her, that he should appear in her life twice, both at times when she was feeling best about being so independent.
Now she believed she had a chance to be with Percy, if only he would look at her as more than a comrade, which he never did.
But, of course, he never would.
"Reyna, are you alright?" she heard his angelic voice ask. The entire council, both in the balcony with her and down below in the audience, was turned towards her.
"Just fine," she replied, her head held high.