The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus 5) - Page 56


‘This is my driver,’ Nico said. ‘Jules-Albert finished first in the Paris–Rouen motorcar race back in 1895, but he wasn’t awarded the prize because his steam car used a stoker.’

Leila stared at him. ‘What are you even talking about?’

‘He’s a restless soul, always looking for another chance to drive,’ Nico said. ‘The last few years, he’s been my driver whenever I need one.’

‘You have a zombie chauffeur,’ Leila said.

‘I call shotgun.’ Nico got in on the passenger’s side. Reluctantly, the Romans climbed in the back.

One thing about Jules-Albert: he never got emotional. He could sit in crosstown traffic all day without losing his patience. He was immune to road rage. He could even drive straight up to an encampment of wild centaurs and navigate through them without getting nervous.

The centaurs were like nothing Nico had ever seen. They had back ends like palominos, tattoos all over their hairy arms and chests, and bullish horns protruding from their foreheads. Nico doubted they could blend in with humans as easily as Chiron did.

At least two hundred were sparring restlessly with swords and spears, or roasting animal carcasses over open fires (carnivorous centaurs … the idea made Nico shudder). Their camp spilled across the farm road that meandered around Camp Half-Blood’s southeast perimeter.

The SUV nudged its way through, honking when necessary. Occasionally a centaur glared through the driver’s side window, saw the zombie driver and backed away in shock.

‘Pluto’s pauldrons,’ Dakota muttered. ‘Even more centaurs arrived overnight.’

‘Don’t make eye contact,’ Leila warned. ‘They take that as a challenge for a duel to the death.’

Nico stared straight ahead as the SUV pushed through. His heart was pounding, but he wasn’t scared. He was angry. Octavian had surrounded Camp Half-Blood with monsters.

Sure, Nico had mixed emotions about the camp. He’d felt rejected there, out of place, unwanted and unloved … but now that it was on the verge of destruction, he realized how much it meant to him. This was the last place Bianca and he had shared as a home – the only place they’d ever felt safe, even if only temporarily.

They rounded a bend in the road and Nico’s fists clenched. More monsters … hundreds more. Dog-headed men prowled in packs, their poleaxes gleaming in the light of campfires. Beyond that milled a tribe of two-headed men dressed in rags and blankets like homeless guys, armed with a haphazard collection of slings, clubs and metal pipes.

‘Octavian is an idiot,’ Nico hissed. ‘He thinks he can control these creatures?’

‘They just kept showing up,’ Leila said. ‘Before we knew it … well, look.’

The legion was arrayed at the base of Half-Blood Hill, its five cohorts in perfect order, its standards bright and proud. Giant eagles circled overhead. The siege weapons – six golden onagers the size of houses – were arrayed behind in a loose semicircle, three on each flank. But, for all its impressive discipline, the Twelfth Legion looked pitifully small, a splotch of demigod valour in a sea of ravenous monsters.

Nico wished he still had the sceptre of Diocletian, but he doubted a legion of dead warriors would make a dent in this army. Even the Argo II couldn’t do much against this kind of strength.

‘I have to disable the onagers,’ Nico said. ‘We don’t have much time.’

‘You’ll never get close to them,’ Leila warned. ‘Even if we get the entire Fourth and Fifth Cohorts to follow us, the other cohorts will try to stop us. And those siege weapons are manned by Octavian’s most loyal followers.’

‘We won’t get close by force,’ Nico agreed. ‘But alone I can do it. Dakota, Leila – Jules-Albert will drive you to the legion lines. Get out, talk to your troops, convince them to follow your lead. I’ll need a distraction.’

Dakota frowned. ‘All right, but I’m not hurting any of my fellow legionnaires.’

‘No one’s asking you to,’ Nico growled. ‘But if we don’t stop this war the entire legion will be wiped out. You said the monster tribes take insult easily?’

‘Yes,’ Dakota said. ‘I mean, for instance, you make any comment to those two-headed guys about the way they smell and … oh.’ He grinned. ‘If we started a brawl, by accident of course …’

‘I’ll be counting on you,’ Nico said.

Leila frowned. ‘But how will you –’

‘I’m going dark,’ Nico said. And he faded into the shadows.

He thought he was prepared.

He wasn’t.

Even after three days of rest and the wondrous healing properties of Coach Hedge’s gooey brown gunk, Nico started to dissolve the moment he shadow-jumped.

His limbs turned to vapour. Cold seeped into his chest. Voices of spirits whispered in his ears: Help us. Remember us. Join us.

He hadn’t realized how much he had relied on Reyna. Without her strength, he felt as weak as a newborn colt, wobbling dangerously, ready to fall at every step.

No, he told himself. I am Nico di Angelo, son of Hades. I control the shadows. They do not control me.

He stumbled back into the mortal world at the crest of Half-Blood Hill.

He fell to his knees, hugging Thalia’s pine tree for support. The Golden Fleece was no longer in its branches. The guardian dragon was gone. Perhaps they’d been moved to a safer spot with the battle so close. Nico wasn’t sure. But, looking down at the Roman forces arrayed outside the valley, his spirits wavered.

The nearest onager was a hundred yards downhill, encircled in spiked trenches and guarded by a dozen demigods. The machine was primed, ready to fire. Its huge sling cupped a projectile the size of a Honda Civic, glowing with flecks of gold.

With icy certainty, Nico realized what Octavian was up to. The projectile was a mixture of incendiaries and Imperial gold. Even a small amount of Imperial gold could be incredibly volatile. Exposed to too much heat or pressure, the stuff would explode with devastating impact, and of course it was deadly to demigods as well as monsters. If that onager scored a hit on Camp Half-Blood, anything in the blast zone would be annihilated – vaporized by the heat, or disintegrated by the shrapnel. And the Romans had six onagers, all stocked with piles of ammunition.

‘Evil,’ Nico said. ‘This is evil.’

He tried to think. Dawn was breaking. He couldn’t possibly take down all six weapons before the attack began, even if he found the strength to shadow-travel that many times. If he managed it once more, it would be a miracle.

He spotted the Roman command tent – behind and to the left of the legion. Octavian would probably be there, enjoying breakfast at a safe distance from the fighting. He wouldn’t lead his troops into battle. The little scumbag would hope to destroy the Greek camp from a distance, wait for the flames to die down, then march in unopposed.

Nico’s throat constricted with hate. He concentrated on that tent, envisioning his next jump. If he could assassinate Octavian, that might solve the problem. The order to attack might never be given. Nico was about to attempt it when a voice behind him said, ‘Nico?’

He spun, his sword instantly in his hand, and almost decapitated Will Solace.

‘Put that down!’ Will hissed. ‘What are you doing here?’

Nico was dumbstruck. Will and two other campers were crouched in the grass, binoculars around their necks and daggers at their side. They wore black jeans and T-shirts, with black grease paint on their faces like commandos.

‘Me?’ Nico asked. ‘What are you doing? Getting yourselves killed?’

Will scowled. ‘Hey, we’re scouting the enemy. We took precautions.’

‘You dressed in black,’ Nico noted, ‘with the sun coming up. You painted your face but didn’t cover that mop of blond hair. You might as well be waving a yellow flag.’

Will’s ears reddened. ‘Lou Ellen wrapped some Mist around us, too.’

‘Hi.’ The girl next to him wriggled her fingers. She looked a little flustered. ‘You’re Nico, right? I’ve

heard a lot about you. And this is Cecil from Hermes cabin.’

Nico knelt next to them. ‘Did Coach Hedge make it to camp?’

Lou Ellen giggled nervously. ‘Did he ever.’

Will elbowed her. ‘Yeah. Hedge is fine. He made it just in time for the baby’s birth.’

‘The baby!’ Nico grinned, which hurt his face muscles. He wasn’t used to making that expression. ‘Mellie and the kid are all right?’

‘Fine. A very cute little satyr boy.’ Will shuddered. ‘But I delivered it. Have you ever delivered a baby?’

‘Um, no.’

‘I had to get some fresh air. That’s why I volunteered for this mission. Gods of Olympus, my hands are still shaking. See?’

He took Nico’s hand, which sent an electric current down Nico’s spine. He quickly withdrew. ‘Whatever,’ he snapped. ‘We don’t have time for chitchat. The Romans are attacking at dawn and I’ve got to –’

‘We know,’ Will said. ‘But, if you’re planning to shadow-travel to that command tent, forget it.’

Nico glared at him. ‘Excuse me?’

He expected Will to flinch or look away. Most people did. But Will’s blue eyes stayed fixed on his – annoyingly determined. ‘Coach Hedge told me all about your shadow-travel. You can’t try that again.’

‘I just did try it again, Solace. I’m fine.’

‘No, you’re not. I’m a healer. I could feel the darkness in your hand as soon as I touched it. Even if you made it to that tent, you’d be in no shape to fight. But you wouldn’t make it. One more slip, and you won’t come back. You are not shadow-travelling. Doctor’s orders.’

‘The camp is about to be destroyed –’

‘And we’ll stop the Romans,’ Will said. ‘But we’ll do it our way. Lou Ellen will control the Mist. We’ll sneak around, do as much damage as we can to those onagers. But no shadow-travel.’

‘But –’

‘No.’

Lou Ellen’s and Cecil’s heads swivelled back and forth like they were watching a really intense tennis match.

Nico sighed in exasperation. He hated working with other people. They were always cramping his style, making him uncomfortable. And Will Solace … Nico revised his impression of the son of Apollo. He’d always thought of Will as easygoing and laid back. Apparently he could also be stubborn and aggravating.

Nico gazed down at Camp Half-Blood, where the rest of the Greeks were preparing for war. Past the troops and ballistae, the canoe lake glittered pink in the first light of dawn. Nico remembered the first time he’d arrived at Camp Half-Blood, crash-landing in Apollo’s sun car, which had been converted into a fiery school bus.

He remembered Apollo, smiling and tanned and completely cool in his shades.

Thalia had said, He’s hot.

He’s the sun god, Percy replied.

That’s not what I meant.


Tags: Rick Riordan The Heroes of Olympus Fantasy
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