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. ”
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. ”