The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus 5) - Page 61


‘Um, was that a joke, or a threat, or –’

‘No,’ Zeus said, ‘I mean it quite literally. I could slap your ship back to Camp Half-Blood, but the force involved …’

Over by the ruined giant throne, the grungy god in the mechanic’s uniform shook his head. ‘My boy Leo built a good ship, but it won’t sustain that kind of stress. It would break apart as soon as it arrived, maybe sooner.’

Leo straightened his tool belt. ‘The Argo II can make it. It only has to stay in one piece long enough to get us back home. Once there, we can abandon ship.’

‘Dangerous,’ warned Hephaestus. ‘Perhaps fatal.’

The goddess Nike twirled a laurel wreath on her finger. ‘Victory is always dangerous. And it often requires sacrifice. Leo Valdez and I have discussed this.’ She stared pointedly at Leo.

Jason didn’t like that at all. He remembered Asclepius’s grim expression when the doctor had examined Leo. Oh, my. Oh, I see … Jason knew what they had to do to defeat Gaia. He knew the risks. But he wanted to take those risks himself, not put them on Leo.

Piper will have the physician’s cure, he told himself. She’ll keep us both covered.

‘Leo,’ Annabeth said, ‘what is Nike talking about?’

Leo waved off the question. ‘The usual. Victory. Sacrifice. Blah, blah, blah. Doesn’t matter. We can do this, guys. We have to do this.’

A feeling of dread settled over Jason. Zeus was correct about one thing: the worst was yet to come.

When the choice comes, Notus the South Wind had told him, storm or fire, do not despair.

Jason made the choice. ‘Leo’s right. All aboard for one last trip.’

LI

Jason

SO MUCH FOR A TENDER FAREWELL.

The last Jason saw of his dad, Zeus was a hundred feet tall, holding the Argo II by its prow. He boomed, ‘HOLD ON!’

Then he tossed the ship up and spiked it overhand like a volleyball.

If Jason hadn’t been strapped to the mast with one of Leo’s twenty-point safety harnesses, he would have disintegrated. As it was, his stomach tried to stay behind in Greece and all the air was sucked out of his lungs.

The sky turned black. The ship rattled and creaked. The deck cracked like thin ice under Jason’s legs and, with a sonic boom, the Argo II hurtled out of the clouds.

‘Jason!’ Leo shouted. ‘Hurry!’

His fingers felt like melted plastic, but Jason managed to undo the straps.

Leo was lashed to the control console, desperately trying to right the ship as they spiralled downward in free fall. The sails were on fire. Festus creaked in alarm. A catapult peeled away and lifted into the air. Centrifugal force sent the shields flying off the railings like metal Frisbees.

Wider cracks opened in the deck as Jason staggered towards the hold, using the winds to keep himself anchored.

If he couldn’t make it to the others …

Then the hatch burst open. Frank and Hazel stumbled through, pulling on the guide rope they’d attached to the mast. Piper, Annabeth and Percy followed, all of them looking disoriented.

‘Go!’ Leo yelled. ‘Go, go, go!’

For once, Leo’s tone was deadly serious.

They’d talked through their evacuation plan, but that slap across the world had made Jason’s mind sluggish. Judging from the others’ expressions, they weren’t in much better shape.

Buford the table saved them. He clattered across the deck with his holographic Hedge blaring, ‘LET’S GO! MOVE IT! CUT THAT OUT!’

Then his tabletop split into helicopter blades and Buford buzzed away.

Frank changed form. Instead of a dazed demigod, he was now a dazed grey dragon. Hazel climbed onto his neck. Frank grabbed Percy and Annabeth in his front claws, then spread his wings and soared away.

Jason held Piper by the waist, ready to fly, but he made the mistake of glancing down. The view was a spinning kaleidoscope of sky, earth, sky, earth. The ground was getting awfully close.

‘Leo, you won’t make it!’ Jason shouted. ‘Come with us!’

‘No! Get out of here!’

‘Leo!’ Piper tried. ‘Please –’

‘Save your charmspeak, Pipes! I told you, I’ve got a plan. Now shoo!’

Jason took a last look at the splintering ship.

The Argo II had been their home for so long. Now they were abandoning it for good – and leaving Leo behind.

Jason hated it, but he saw the determination in Leo’s eyes. Just like the visit with his father, Zeus, there was no time for a proper goodbye.

Jason harnessed the winds, and he and Piper shot into the sky.

The ground wasn’t much less chaotic.

As they plummeted, Jason saw a vast army of monsters spread across the hills – cynocephali, two-headed men, wild centaurs, ogres and others he couldn’t even name – surrounding two tiny islands of demigods. At the crest of Half-Blood Hill, gathered at the feet of the Athena Parthenos, was the main force of Camp Half-Blood along with the First and Fifth Cohorts, rallied around the golden eagle of the legion. The other three Roman cohorts were in a defensive formation several hundred yards away and seemed to be taking the brunt of the attack.

Giant eagles circled Jason, screeching urgently, as if looking for orders.

Frank the grey dragon flew alongside with his passengers.

‘Hazel!’ Jason yelled. ‘Those three cohorts are in trouble! If they don’t merge with the rest of the demigods –’

‘On it!’ Hazel said. ‘Go, Frank!’

Dragon Frank veered to the left with Annabeth in one claw yelling, ‘Let’s get ’em!’ and Percy in the other claw screaming, ‘I hate flying!’

Piper and Jason veered right towards the summit of Half-Blood Hill.

Jason’s heart lifted when he saw Nico di Angelo on the front lines with the Greeks, slashing his

way through a crowd of two-headed men. A few feet away, Reyna sat astride a new pegasus, her sword drawn. She shouted orders at the legion, and the Romans obeyed without question, as if she’d never been away.

Jason didn’t see Octavian anywhere. Good. Neither did he see a colossal earth goddess laying waste to the world. Very good. Perhaps Gaia had risen, taken one look at the modern world and decided to go back to sleep. Jason wished they could be that lucky, but he doubted it.

He and Piper landed on the hill, their swords drawn, and a cheer went up from the Greeks and the Romans.

‘About time!’ Reyna called. ‘Glad you could join us!’

With a start, Jason realized she was addressing Piper, not him.

Piper grinned. ‘We had some giants to kill!’

‘Excellent!’ Reyna returned the smile. ‘Help yourself to some barbarians.’

‘Why, thank you!’

The two girls launched into battle side by side.

Nico nodded to Jason as if they’d just seen each other five minutes ago, then went back to turning two-headed men into no-headed corpses. ‘Good timing. Where’s the ship?’

Jason pointed. The Argo II streaked across the sky in a ball of fire, shedding burning chunks of mast, hull and armament. Jason didn’t see how even fireproof Leo could survive in that inferno, but he had to hope.

‘Gods,’ Nico said. ‘Is everyone okay?’

‘Leo …’ Jason’s voice broke. ‘He said he had a plan.’

The comet disappeared behind the western hills. Jason waited with dread for the sound of an explosion, but he heard nothing over the roar of battle.

Nico met his eyes. ‘He’ll be fine.’

‘Sure.’

‘But just in case … For Leo.’

‘For Leo,’ Jason agreed. They charged into the fight.

Jason’s anger gave him renewed strength. The Greeks and Romans slowly pushed back the enemies. Wild centaurs toppled. Wolf-headed men howled as they were cut to ashes.

More monsters kept appearing – karpoi grain spirits swirling out of the grass, gryphons diving from the sky, lumpy clay humanoids that made Jason think of evil Play-Doh men.

‘They’re ghosts with earthen shells!’ Nico warned. ‘Don’t let them hit you!’

Obviously Gaia had kept some surprises in reserve.

At one point, Will Solace, the lead camper for Apollo, ran up to Nico and said something in his ear. Over the yelling and clashing of blades, Jason couldn’t hear the words.

‘Jason, I have to go!’ Nico said.


Tags: Rick Riordan The Heroes of Olympus Fantasy
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