The mark of athena, p.7
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       The Mark of Athena, p.7

         Part #3 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 7


  Leo slumped against the mast. His head still throbbed from hitting the deck. All around him, his beautiful new ship was in shambles. The aft crossbows were piles of kindling. The foresail was tattered. The satellite array that powered the onboard Internet and TV was blown to bits, which had really made Coach Hedge mad. Their bronze dragon figurehead, Festus, was coughing up smoke like he had a hairball, and Leo could tell from the groaning sounds on the port side that some of the aerial oars had been knocked out of alignment or broken off completely, which explained why the ship was listing and shuddering as it flew, the engine wheezing like an asthmatic steam train.

  He choked back a sob. “I don’t know. It’s fuzzy. ”

  Too many people were looking at him: Annabeth (Leo hated to make her angry; that girl scared him), Coach Hedge with his furry goat legs, his orange polo shirt, and his baseball bat (did he have to carry that everywhere?), and the newcomer, Frank.

  Leo wasn’t sure what to make of Frank. He looked like a baby sumo wrestler, though Leo wasn’t stupid enough to say that aloud. Leo’s memory was hazy, but while he’d been half conscious, he was pretty sure he’d seen a dragon land on the ship—a dragon that had turned into Frank.

  Annabeth crossed her arms. “You mean you don’t remember?”

  “I…” Leo felt like he was trying to swallow a marble. “I remember, but it’s like I was watching myself do things. I couldn’t control it. ”

  Coach Hedge tapped his bat against the deck. In his gym clothes, with his cap pulled over his horns, he looked just like he used to at the Wilderness School, where he’d spent a year undercover as Jason, Piper, and Leo’s P. E. teacher. The way the old satyr was glowering, Leo almost wondered if the coach was going to order him to do push-ups.

  “Look, kid,” Hedge said, “you blew up some stuff. You attacked some Romans. Awesome! Excellent! But did you have to knock out the satellite channels? I was right in the middle of watching a cage match. ”

  “Coach,” Annabeth said, “why don’t you make sure all the fires are out?”

  “But I already did that. ”

  “Do it again. ”

  The satyr trudged off, muttering under his breath. Even Hedge wasn’t crazy enough to defy Annabeth.

  She knelt next to Leo. Her gray eyes were as steely as ball bearings. Her blond hair fell loose around her shoulders, but Leo didn’t find that attractive. He had no idea where the stereotype of dumb giggly blondes came from. Ever since he’d met Annabeth at the Grand Canyon last winter, when she’d marched toward him with that Give me Percy Jackson or I’ll kill you expression, Leo thought of blondes as much too smart and much too dangerous.

  “Leo,” she said calmly, “did Octavian trick you somehow? Did he frame you, or—”

  “No. ” Leo could have lied and blamed that stupid Roman, but he didn’t want to make a bad situation worse. “The guy was a jerk, but he didn’t fire on the camp. I did. ”

  The new kid, Frank, scowled. “On purpose?”

  “No!” Leo squeezed his eyes shut. “Well, yes…I mean, I didn’t want to. But at the same time, I felt like I wanted to. Something was making me do it. There was this cold feeling inside me—”

  “A cold feeling. ” Annabeth’s tone changed. She sounded almost…scared.

  “Yeah,” Leo said. “Why?”

  From belowdecks, Percy called up, “Annabeth, we need you. ”

  Oh, gods, Leo thought. Please let Jason be okay.

  As soon as they’d gotten on board, Piper had taken Jason below. The cut on his head had looked pretty bad. Leo had known Jason longer than anyone at Camp Half-Blood. They were best friends. If Jason didn’t make it…

  “He’ll be fine. ” Annabeth’s expression softened. “Frank, I’ll be back. Just…watch Leo. Please. ”

  Frank nodded.

  If it was possible for Leo to feel worse, he did. Annabeth now trusted a Roman demigod she’d known for like, three seconds, more than she trusted Leo.

  Once she was gone, Leo and Frank stared at each other. The big dude looked pretty odd in his bedsheet toga, with his gray pullover hoodie and jeans, and a bow and quiver from the ship’s armory slung over his shoulder. Leo remembered the time he had met the Hunters of Artemis—a bunch of cute lithe girls in silvery clothes, all armed with bows. He imagined Frank frolicking along with them. The idea was so ridiculous, it almost made him feel better.

  “So,” Frank said. “Your name isn’t Sammy?”

  Leo scowled. “What kind of question is that?”

  “Nothing,” Frank said quickly. “I just— Nothing. About the firing on the camp…Octavian could be behind it, like magically or something. He didn’t want the Romans getting along with you guys. ”

  Leo wanted to believe that. He was grateful to this kid for not hating him. But he knew it hadn’t been Octavian. Leo had walked to a ballista and started firing. Part of him had known it was wrong. He’d asked himself: What the heck am I doing? But he’d done it anyway.

  Maybe he was going crazy. The stress of all those months working on the Argo II might’ve finally made him crack.

  But he couldn’t think about that. He needed to do something productive. His hands needed to be busy.

  “Look,” he said, “I should talk to Festus and get a damage report. You mind… ?”

  Frank helped him up. “Who is Festus?”

  “My friend,” Leo said. “His name isn’t Sammy either, in case you’re wondering. Come on. I’ll introduce you. ”

  Fortunately the bronze dragon wasn’t damaged. Well, aside from the fact that last winter he’d lost everything except his head—but Leo didn’t count that.

  When they reached the bow of the ship, the figurehead turned a hundred and eighty degrees to look at them. Frank yelped and backed away.

  “It’s alive!” he said.

  Leo would have laughed if he hadn’t felt so bad. “Yeah. Frank, this is Festus. He used to be a full bronze dragon, but we had an accident. ”

  “You have a lot of accidents,” Frank noted.

  “Well, some of us can’t turn into dragons, so we have to build our own. ” Leo arched his eyebrows at Frank. “Anyway, I revived him as a figurehead. He’s kind of the ship’s main interface now. How are things looking, Festus?”

  Festus snorted smoke and made a series of squeaking, whirring sounds. Over the last few months, Leo had learned to interpret this machine language. Other demigods could understand Latin and Greek. Leo could speak Creak and Squeak.

  “Ugh,” Leo said. “Could be worse, but the hull is compromised in several places. The port aerial oars have to be fixed before we can go full speed again. We’ll need some repair materials: Celestial bronze, tar, lime—”

  “What do you need limes for?”

  “Dude, lime. Calcium carbonate, used in cement and a bunch of other— Ah, never mind. The point is, this ship isn’t going far unless we can fix it. ”

  Festus made another click-creak noise that Leo didn’t recognize. It sounded like AY-zuhl.

  “Oh…Hazel,” he deciphered. “That’s the girl with the curly hair, right?”

  Frank gulped. “Is she okay?”

  “Yeah, she’s fine,” Leo said. “According to Festus, her horse is racing along below. She’s following us. ”

  “We’ve got to land, then,” Frank said.

  Leo studied him. “She’s your girlfriend?”

  Frank chewed his lip. “Yes. ”

  “You don’t sound sure. ”

  “Yes. Yes, definitely. I’m sure. ”

  Leo raised his hands. “Okay, fine. The problem is we can only manage one landing. The way the hull and the oars are, we won’t be able to lift off again until we repair, so we’ll have to make sure we land somewhere with all the right supplies. ”

  Frank scratched his head. “Where do you get Celestial bronze? You can’t just stock up at Home Depot. ”

  “Festus, do a scan. ”

  “He can scan for ma
gic bronze?” Frank marveled. “Is there anything he can’t do?”

  Leo thought: You should’ve seen him when he had a body. But he didn’t say that. It was too painful, remembering the way Festus used to be.

  Leo peered over the ship’s bow. The Central California valley was passing below. Leo didn’t hold out much hope that they could find what they needed all in one place, but they had to try. Leo also wanted to put as much distance as possible between himself and New Rome. The Argo II could cover vast distances pretty quickly, thanks to its magical engine, but Leo figured the Romans had magic travel methods of their own.

  Behind him, the stairs creaked. Percy and Annabeth climbed up, their faces grim.

  Leo’s heart stumbled. “Is Jason—?”

  “He’s resting,” Annabeth said. “Piper’s keeping an eye on him, but he should be fine. ”

  Percy gave him a hard look. “Annabeth says you did fire the ballista?”

  “Man, I—I don’t understand how it happened. I’m so sorry—”

  “Sorry?” Percy growled.

  Annabeth put a hand on her boyfriend’s chest. “We’ll figure it out later. Right now, we have to regroup and make a plan. What’s the situation with the ship?”

  Leo’s legs trembled. The way Percy had looked at him made him feel the same as when Jason summoned lightning. Leo’s skin tingled, and every instinct in his body screamed, Duck!

  He told Annabeth about the damage and the supplies they needed. At least he felt better talking about something fixable.

  He was bemoaning the shortage of Celestial bronze when Festus began to whir and squeak.

  “Perfect. ” Leo sighed with relief.

  “What’s perfect?” Annabeth said. “I could use some perfect about now. ”

  Leo managed a smile. “Everything we need in one place. Frank, why don’t you turn into a bird or something? Fly down and tell your girlfriend to meet us at the Great Salt Lake in Utah. ”

  Once they got there, it wasn’t a pretty landing. With the oars damaged and the foresail torn, Leo could barely manage a controlled descent. The others strapped themselves in below—except for Coach Hedge, who insisted on clinging to the forward rail, yelling, “YEAH! Bring it on, lake!” Leo stood astern, alone at the helm, and aimed as best he could.

  Festus creaked and whirred warning signals, which were relayed through the intercom to the quarterdeck.

  “I know, I know,” Leo said, gritting his teeth.

  He didn’t have much time to take in the scenery. To the southeast, a city was nestled in the foothills of a mountain range, blue and purple in the afternoon shadows. A flat desert landscape spread to the south. Directly beneath them the Great Salt Lake glittered like aluminum foil, the shoreline etched with white salt marshes that reminded Leo of aerial photos of Mars.

  “Hang on, Coach!” he shouted. “This is going to hurt. ”

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