The mark of athena, p.8
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       The Mark of Athena, p.8

         Part #3 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 8


  “I was born for hurt!”

  WHOOM! A swell of salt water washed over the bow, dousing Coach Hedge. The Argo II listed dangerously to starboard, then righted itself and rocked on the surface of the lake. Machinery hummed as the aerial blades that were still working changed to nautical form.

  Three banks of robotic oars dipped into the water and began moving them forward.

  “Good job, Festus,” Leo said. “Take us toward the south shore. ”

  “Yeah!” Coach Hedge pumped his fists in the air. He was drenched from his horns to hooves, but grinning like a crazy goat. “Do it again!”

  “Uh…maybe later,” Leo said. “Just stay above deck, okay? You can keep watch, in case—you know, the lake decides to attack us or something. ”

  “On it,” Hedge promised.

  Leo rang the All clear bell and headed for the stairs. Before he got there, a loud clump-clump-clump shook the hull. A tan stallion appeared on deck with Hazel Levesque on his back.

  “How—?” Leo’s question died in his throat. “We’re in the middle of a lake! Can that thing fly?”

  The horse whinnied angrily.

  “Arion can’t fly,” Hazel said. “But he can run across just about anything. Water, vertical surfaces, small mountains—none of that bothers him. ”

  “Oh. ”

  Hazel was looking at him strangely, the way she had during the feast in the forum—like she was searching for something in his face. He was tempted to ask if they had met before, but he was sure they hadn’t. He would remember a pretty girl paying such close attention to him. That didn’t happen a lot.

  She’s Frank’s girlfriend, he reminded himself.

  Frank was still below, but Leo almost wished the big guy would come up the stairs. The way Hazel was studying Leo made him feel uneasy and self-conscious.

  Coach Hedge crept forward with his baseball bat, eyeing the magic horse suspiciously. “Valdez, does this count as an invasion?”

  “No!” Leo said. “Um, Hazel, you’d better come with me. I built a stable belowdecks, if Arion wants to—”

  “He’s more of a free spirit. ” Hazel slipped out of the saddle. “He’ll graze around the lake until I call him. But I want to see the ship. Lead the way. ”

  The Argo II was designed like an ancient trireme, only twice as big. The first deck had one central corridor with crew cabins on either side. On a normal trireme, most of the space would’ve been taken up with three rows of benches for a few hundred sweaty guys to do the manual labor, but Leo’s oars were automated and retractable, so they took up very little room inside the hull. The ship’s power came from the engine room on the second and lowest deck, which also housed sickbay, storage, and the stables.

  Leo led the way down the hall. He’d built the ship with eight cabins—seven for the demigods of the prophecy, and a room for Coach Hedge (Seriously—Chiron considered him a responsible adult chaperone?). At the stern was a large mess hall/lounge, which was where Leo headed.

  On the way, they passed Jason’s room. The door was open. Piper sat at the side of his berth, holding Jason’s hand while he snored with an ice pack on his head.

  Piper glanced at Leo. She held a finger to her lips for quiet, but she didn’t look angry. That was something. Leo tried to force down his guilt, and they kept walking. When they reached the mess hall, they found the others—Percy, Annabeth, and Frank—sitting dejectedly around the dining table.

  Leo had made the lounge as nice as possible, since he figured they’d be spending a lot of time there. The cupboard was lined with magic cups and plates from Camp Half-Blood, which would fill up with whatever food or drink you wanted on command. There was also a magical ice chest with canned drinks, perfect for picnics ashore. The chairs were cushy recliners with thousand-finger massage, built-in headphones, and sword and drink holders for all your demigod kicking-back needs. There were no windows, but the walls were enchanted to show real-time footage from Camp Half-Blood—the beach, the forest, the strawberry fields—although now Leo was wondering if this made people homesick rather than happy.

  Percy was staring longingly at a sunset view of Half-Blood Hill, where the Golden Fleece glittered in the branches of the tall pine tree.

  “So we’ve landed,” Percy said. “What now?”

  Frank plucked on his bowstring. “Figure out the prophecy? I mean…that was a prophecy Ella spoke, right? From the Sibylline Books?”

  “The what?” Leo asked.

  Frank explained how their harpy friend was freakishly good at memorizing books. At some point in the past, she’d inhaled a collection of ancient prophecies that had supposedly been destroyed around the fall of Rome.

  “That’s why you didn’t tell the Romans,” Leo guessed. “You didn’t want them to get hold of her. ”

  Percy kept staring at the image of Half-Blood Hill. “Ella’s sensitive. She was a captive when we found her. I just didn’t want…” He made a fist. “It doesn’t matter now. I sent Tyson an Iris-message, told him to take Ella to Camp Half-Blood. They’ll be safe there. ”

  Leo doubted that any of them would be safe, now that he had stirred up a camp of angry Romans on top of the problems they already had with Gaea and the giants; but he kept quiet.

  Annabeth laced her fingers. “Let me think about the prophecy—but right now we have more immediate problems. We have to get this ship fixed. Leo, what do we need?”

  “The easiest thing is tar. ” Leo was glad to change the subject. “We can get that in the city, at a roofing-supply store or someplace like that. Also, Celestial bronze and lime. According to Festus, we can find both of those on an island in the lake, just west of here. ”

  “We’ll have to hurry,” Hazel warned. “If I know Octavian, he’s searching for us with his auguries. The Romans will send a strike force after us. It’s a matter of honor. ”

  Leo felt everyone’s eyes on him. “Guys…I don’t know what happened. Honestly, I—”

  Annabeth raised her hand. “We’ve been talking. We agree it couldn’t have been you, Leo. That cold feeling you mentioned…I felt it too. It must have been some sort of magic, either Octavian or Gaea or one of her minions. But until we understand what happened—”

  Frank grunted. “How can we be sure it won’t happen again?”

  Leo’s fingers heated up like they were about to catch fire. One of his powers as a son of Hephaestus was that he could summon flames at will; but he had to be careful not to do so by accident, especially on a ship filled with explosives and flammable supplies.

  “I’m fine now,” he insisted, though he wished he could be sure. “Maybe we should use the buddy system. Nobody goes anywhere alone. We can leave Piper and Coach Hedge on board with Jason. Send one team into town to get tar. Another team can go after the bronze and the lime. ”

  “Split up?” Percy said. “That sounds like a really bad idea. ”

  “It’ll be quicker,” Hazel put in. “Besides, there’s a reason a quest is usually limited to three demigods, right?”

  Annabeth raised her eyebrows, as if reappraising Hazel’s merits. “You’re right. The same reason we needed the Argo II…outside camp, seven demigods in one place will attract way too much monstrous attention. The ship is designed to conceal and protect us. We should be safe enough on board; but if we go on expeditions, we shouldn’t travel in groups larger than three. No sense alerting more of Gaea’s minions than we have to. ”

  Percy still didn’t look happy about it, but he took Annabeth’s hand. “As long as you’re my buddy, I’m good. ”

  Hazel smiled. “Oh, that’s easy. Frank, you were amazing, turning into a dragon! Could you do it again to fly Annabeth and Percy into town for the tar?”

  Frank opened his mouth like he wanted to protest. “I…I suppose. But what about you?”

  “I’ll ride Arion with Sa—with Leo, here. ” She fidgeted with her sword hilt, which made Leo uneasy. She had even more nervous energy than he did
. “We’ll get the bronze and the lime. We can all meet back here by dark. ”

  Frank scowled. Obviously, he didn’t like the idea of Leo going off with Hazel. For some reason, Frank’s disapproval made Leo want to go. He had to prove he was trustworthy. He wasn’t going to fire any random ballistae again.

  “Leo,” said Annabeth, “if we get the supplies, how long to fix the ship?”

  “With luck, just a few hours. ”

  “Fine,” she decided. “We’ll meet you back here as soon as possible, but stay safe. We could use some good luck. That doesn’t mean we’ll get it. ”

  Chapter 6

  Riding Arion was the best thing that had happened to Leo all day—which wasn’t saying much, since his day had sucked. The horse’s hooves turned the surface of the lake to salty mist. Leo put his hand against the horse’s side and felt the muscles working like a well-oiled machine. For the first time, he understood why car engines were measured in horsepower. Arion was a four-legged Maserati.

  Ahead of them lay an island—a line of sand so white, it might have been pure table salt. Behind that rose an expanse of grassy dunes and weathered boulders.

  Leo sat behind Hazel, one arm around her waist. The close contact made him a little uncomfortable, but it was the only way he could stay on board (or whatever you called it with a horse).

  Before they left, Percy had pulled him aside to tell him Hazel’s story. Percy made it sound like he was just doing Leo a favor, but there’d been an undertone like If you mess with my friend, I will personally feed you to a great white shark.

  According to Percy, Hazel was a daughter of Pluto. She’d died in the 1940s and been brought back to life only a few months ago.

  Leo found that hard to believe. Hazel seemed warm and very alive, not like the ghosts or the other reborn mortals Leo had tangled with.

  She seemed good with people, too, unlike Leo, who was much more comfortable with machines. Living stuff, like horses and girls? He had no idea what made them work.

  Hazel was also Frank’s girlfriend, so Leo knew he should keep his distance. Still, her hair smelled good, and riding with her made his heart race almost against his will. It must’ve been the speed of the horse.

  Arion thundered onto the beach. He stomped his hooves and whinnied triumphantly, like Coach Hedge yelling a battle cry.

  Hazel and Leo dismounted. Arion pawed the sand.

  “He needs to eat,” Hazel explained. “He likes gold, but—”

  “Gold?” Leo asked.

  “He’ll settle for grass. Go on, Arion. Thanks for the ride. I’ll call you. ”

  Just like that, the horse was gone—nothing left but a steaming trail across the lake.

  “Fast horse,” Leo said, “and expensive to feed. ”

  “Not really,” Hazel said. “Gold is easy for me. ”

  Leo raised his eyebrows. “How is gold easy? Please tell me you’re not related to King Midas. I don’t like that guy. ”

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