The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus 5) - Page 10

Coach Hedge grunted. ‘I’d rather not find out. I say we keep moving.’

Nico’s mouth twitched. ‘You are suggesting we avoid a fight?’

‘Listen, cupcake, I like a smackdown as much as the next guy, but we’ve got enough monsters to worry about without some bounty-hunter giant tracking us across the world. I don’t like the sound of those huge arrows.’

‘For once,’ Reyna said, ‘I agree with Hedge.’

Nico unfolded his aviator jacket. He put his finger through an arrow hole in the sleeve.

‘I could ask for advice.’ Nico sounded reluctant. ‘Thalia Grace …’

‘Jason’s sister,’ Reyna said.

She’d never met Thalia. In fact, she’d only recently learned Jason had a sister. According to Jason, she was a Greek demigod, a daughter of Zeus, who led a group of Diana’s … no, Artemis’s followers. The whole idea made Reyna’s head spin.

Nico nodded. ‘The Hunters of Artemis are … well, hunters. If anybody knew about this giant hunter guy, Thalia would. I could try sending her an Iris-message.’

‘You don’t sound very excited about the idea,’ Reyna noticed. ‘Are you two … on bad terms?’

‘We’re fine.’

A few feet away, Aurum snarled quietly, which meant Nico was lying.

Reyna decided not to press.

‘I should also try to contact my sister, Hylla,’ she said. ‘Camp Jupiter is lightly defended. If Gaia attacks there, perhaps the Amazons could help.’

Coach Hedge scowled. ‘No offence, but, uh … what’s an army of Amazons going to do against a wave of dirt?’

Reyna fought down a sense of dread. She suspected Hedge was right. Against what she’d seen in her dreams, the only defence would be to prevent the giants from waking Gaia. For that, she had to put her trust in the crew of the Argo II.

The daylight was almost gone. Around the courtyard, ghosts were forming a mob – hundreds of glowing Romans carrying spectral clubs or stones.

‘We can talk more after the next jump,’ Reyna decided. ‘Right now, we need to get out of here.’

‘Yeah.’ Nico stood. ‘I think we can reach Spain this time if we’re lucky. Just let me –’

The mob of ghosts vanished, like a mass of birthday candles blown out in a single breath.

Reyna’s hand went to her dagger. ‘Where did they go?’

Nico’s eyes flitted across the ruins. His expression was not reassuring. ‘I – I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s a good sign. Keep a lookout. I’ll get harnessed up. Should only take a few seconds.’

Gleeson Hedge rose to his hooves. ‘A few seconds you do not have.’

Reyna’s stomach curled into a tiny ball.

Hedge spoke with a woman’s voice – the same one Reyna had heard in her nightmare.

She drew her knife.

Hedge turned towards her, his face expressionless. His eyes were solid black. ‘Be glad, Reyna Ramírez-Arellano. You will die as a Roman. You will join the ghosts of Pompeii.’

The ground rumbled. All around the courtyard, spirals of ash swirled into the air. They solidified into crude human figures – earthen shells like the ones in the museum. They stared at Reyna, their eyes ragged holes in faces of rock.

‘The earth will swallow you,’ Hedge said in the voice of Gaia. ‘Just as it swallowed them.’

VIII

Reyna

‘THERE ARE TOO MANY OF THEM.’ Reyna wondered bitterly how many times she’d said that in her demigod career.

She should have a badge made and wear it around to save time. When she died, the words would probably be written on her tombstone: There were too many of them.

Her greyhounds stood on either side of her, growling at the earthen shells. Reyna counted at least twenty, closing in from every direction.

Coach Hedge continued to speak in a very womanly voice: ‘The dead always outnumber the living. These spirits have waited centuries, unable to express their anger. Now I have given them bodies of earth.’

One earthen ghost stepped forward. It moved slowly, but its footfall was so heavy it cracked the ancient tiles.

‘Nico?’ Reyna called.

‘I can’t control them,’ he said, frantically untangling his harness. ‘Something about the rock shells, I guess. I need a couple of seconds to concentrate on making the shadow-jump. Otherwise I might teleport us into another volcano.’

Reyna cursed under her breath. There was no way she could fight off so many by herself while Nico prepared their escape, especially with Coach Hedge out of commission. ‘Use the sceptre,’ she said. ‘Get me some zombies.’

‘It will not help,’ Coach Hedge intoned. ‘Stand aside, Praetor. Let the ghosts of Pompeii destroy this Greek statue. A true Roman would not resist.’

The earthen ghosts shuffled forward. Through their mouth holes, they made hollow whistling noises¸ like someone blowing across empty soda bottles. One stepped on the coach’s dagger-tennis-racket trap and smashed it to pieces.

From his belt, Nico pulled the sceptre of Diocletian. ‘Reyna, if I summon more dead Romans … who’s to say they won’t join this mob?’

‘I say. I am a praetor. Get me some legionnaires, and I’ll control them.’

‘You shall perish,’ said the coach. ‘You shall never –’

Reyna smacked him on the head with the pommel of her knife. The satyr crumpled.

‘Sorry, Coach,’ she muttered. ‘That was getting tiresome. Nico – zombies! Then concentrate on getting us out of here.’

Nico raised his sceptre and the ground trembled.

The earthen ghosts chose that moment to charge. Aurum leaped at the nearest one and literally bit the creature’s head off with his metal fangs. The rock shell toppled backwards and shattered.

Argentum was not so lucky. He sprang at another ghost, which swung its heavy arm and bashed the greyhound in his face. Argentum went flying. He staggered to his feet. His head was twisted forty-five degrees to the right. One of his ruby eyes was missing.

Anger hammered in Reyna’s chest like a hot spike. She’d already lost her pegasus. She was not going to lose her dogs, too. She slashed her knife through the ghost’s chest, then drew her gladius. Strictly speaking, fighting with two blades wasn’t very Roman, but Reyna had spent time with pirates. She’d picked up more than a few tricks.

The earthen shells crumbled easily, but they hit like sledgehammers. Reyna didn’t understand how, but she knew she couldn’t afford to take even one blow. Unlike Argentum, she wouldn’t survive getting her head knocked sideways.

‘Nico!’ She ducked between two earthen ghosts, allowing them to smash each other’s heads in. ‘Any time now!’

The ground split open down the centre of the courtyard. Dozens of skeletal soldiers clawed their way to the surface. Their shields looked like giant corroded pennies. Their blades were more rust than metal. But Reyna had never been so relieved to see reinforcements.

‘Legion!’ she shouted. ‘Ad aciem!’

The zombies responded, pushing through the earthen ghosts to form a battle line. Some fell, crushed by stone fists. Others managed to close ranks and raise their shields.

Behind her, Nico cursed.

Reyna risked a backward glance. The sceptre of Diocletian was smoking in Nico’s hands.

‘It’s fighting me!’ he yelled. ‘I don’t think it likes summoning Romans to fight other Romans!’

Reyna knew that Ancient Romans had spent at least half their time fighting each other, but she decided not to bring that up. ‘Just secure Coach Hedge. Get ready to shadow-travel! I’ll buy you some –’

Nico yelped. The sceptre of Diocletian exploded into pieces. Nico didn’t look hurt, but he stared at Reyna in shock. ‘I – I don’t know what happened. You’ve got a few minutes, tops, before your zombies disappear.’

‘Legion!’ Reyna shouted. ‘Orbem formate! Gladium signe!’

The zombies circled the Athena Parthenos, their swords ready for close-quar

ters fighting. Argentum dragged the unconscious Coach Hedge over to Nico, who was furiously strapping himself into the harness. Aurum stood guard, lunging at any earth ghosts who broke through the line.

Reyna fought shoulder to shoulder with the dead legionnaires, sending her strength into their ranks. She knew it wouldn’t be enough. The earthen ghosts fell easily, but more kept rising from the ground in swirls of ash. Each time their stone fists connected, another zombie went down.

Meanwhile, the Athena Parthenos towered over the battle – regal, haughty and unconcerned.

A little help would be nice, Reyna thought. Maybe a destructo-ray? Or some good old-fashioned smiting.

The statue did nothing except radiate hatred, which seemed directed equally at Reyna and the attacking ghosts.

You want to lug me to Long Island? the statue seemed to say. Good luck with that, Roman scum.

Reyna’s destiny: to die defending a passive-aggressive goddess.

She kept fighting, extending more of her will into the undead troops. In return, they bombarded her with their despair and resentment.

You fight for nothing, the zombie legionnaires whispered in her mind. The empire is gone.

Tags: Rick Riordan The Heroes of Olympus Fantasy
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