The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus 5) - Page 48

‘Thank you, great one.’

Pegasus spread his wings and inclined his head.

Even now, after flying halfway up the East Coast together, Reyna could scarcely believe the immortal horse had allowed her to ride.

Reyna had always pictured him as solid white with dove-like wings, but Pegasus’s coat was rich brown, mottled with red and gold around the muzzle – which Hedge claimed were the marks where the stallion had emerged from the blood and ichor of his beheaded mother, Medusa. Pegasus’s wings were the colours of an eagle’s – gold, white, brown and rust – which made him look much more handsome and regal than plain white. He was the colour of all horses, representing all his offspring.

Lord Pegasus nickered.

Hedge trotted over to translate. ‘Pegasus says he should leave before the shooting starts. His life force connects all pegasi, see, so if he gets injured all winged horses feel his pain. That’s why he doesn’t get out much. He’s immortal, but his offspring aren’t. He doesn’t want them to suffer on his account. He’s asked the other horses to stay with us, to help us complete our mission.’

‘I understand,’ Reyna said. ‘Thank you.’

Pegasus whinnied.

Hedge’s eyes widened. He choked back a sob, then fished a handkerchief out of his backpack and dabbed his eyes.

‘Coach?’ Nico frowned with concern. ‘What did Pegasus say?’

‘He – he says he didn’t come to us in person because of my message.’ Hedge turned to Reyna. ‘He did it because of you. He experiences the feelings of all winged horses. He followed your friendship with Scipio. Pegasus says he’s never been more touched by a demigod’s compassion for a winged horse. He gives you the title Horse Friend. This is a great honour.’

Reyna’s eyes stung. She bowed her head. ‘Thank you, lord.’

Pegasus pawed the deck. The other winged horses whinnied in salute. Then their sire launched himself upward and spiralled into the night.

Hedge stared at the clouds in amazement. ‘Pegasus hasn’t shown himself in hundreds of years.’ He patted Reyna on the back. ‘You did good, Roman.’

Reyna didn’t feel like she deserved credit for putting Scipio through so much suffering, but she forced down her feelings of guilt.

‘Nico, we should check the ship,’ she said. ‘If there’s anyone aboard –’

‘Way ahead of you.’ He stroked Blackjack’s muzzle. ‘I sense two mortals asleep in the main cabin. Nobody else. I’m no child of Hypnos, but I’ve sent some deep dreams their way. Should be enough to keep them snoozing until well after sunrise.’

Reyna tried not to stare at him. In the last few days he’d become so much stronger. Hedge’s nature magic had brought him back from the brink. She’d seen Nico do some impressive things, but manipulating dreams … had he always been able to do that?

Coach Hedge rubbed his hands eagerly. ‘So when can we go ashore? My wife is waiting!’

Reyna scanned the horizon. A Greek trireme patrolled just offshore, but it didn’t seem to have noticed their arrival. No alarms sounded. No signs of movement along the beach.

She caught a glimpse of silver wake in the moonlight, half a mile to the west. A black motorboat was speeding towards them with no running lights. Reyna hoped it was a mortal vessel. Then it got closer, and Reyna’s hand tightened on the hilt of her sword. Glinting on the boat’s prow was a laurel wreath design with the letters SPQR.

‘The legion has sent a welcoming committee.’

Nico followed her gaze. ‘I thought the Romans didn’t have a navy.’

‘We didn’t,’ she said. ‘Apparently Octavian has been busier than I realized.’

‘So we attack!’ Hedge said. ‘ ’Cause nobody’s standing in my way when I’m this close.’

Reyna counted three people in the speedboat. The two in the back wore helmets, but Reyna recognized the driver’s wedge-shaped face and stocky shoulders: Michael Kahale.

‘We’ll try to parlay,’ Reyna decided. ‘That’s one of Octavian’s right-hand men, but he’s a good legionnaire. I may be able to reason with him.’

The wind swept Nico’s dark hair across his face. ‘But if you’re wrong …’

The black boat slowed and pulled alongside. Michael called up: ‘Reyna! I’ve got orders to arrest you and confiscate that statue. I’m coming aboard with two other centurions. I’d prefer to do this without bloodshed.’

Reyna tried to control her trembling legs. ‘Come aboard, Michael!’

She turned to Nico and Coach Hedge. ‘If I’m wrong, be ready. Michael Kahale won’t be easy to fight.’

Michael wasn’t dressed for combat. He wore only his purple camp shirt, jeans and running shoes. He carried no visible weapon, but that didn’t make Reyna feel any better. His arms were as thick as bridge cables, his expression as welcoming as a brick wall. The dove tattoo on his forearm looked more like a bird of prey.

His eyes glittered darkly as he took in the scene – the Athena Parthenos harnessed to its team of pegasi, Nico with his Stygian sword drawn, Coach Hedge with his baseball bat.

Michael’s backup centurions were Leila from the Fourth Cohort and Dakota from the Fifth. Strange choices … Leila, daughter of Ceres, wasn’t known for her aggressiveness. She was usually quite levelheaded. And Dakota … Reyna couldn’t believe the son of Bacchus, the most good-natured of officers, would side with Octavian.

‘Reyna Ramírez-Arellano,’ Michael said, like he was reading a scroll, ‘former praetor –’

‘I am praetor,’ Reyna corrected. ‘Unless I have been removed by a vote of the full senate. Is that the case?’

Michael sighed heavily. His heart didn’t seem to be in his task. ‘I have orders to arrest you and hold you for trial.’

‘On whose authority?’

‘You know whose –’

‘On what charges?’

‘Listen, Reyna –’ Michael rubbed his palm across his forehead, like it might wipe away his headache – ‘I don’t like this any more than you do. But I have my orders.’

‘Illegal orders.’

‘It’s too late for argument. Octavian has assumed emergency powers. The legion is behind him.’

‘Is that true?’ She looked pointedly at Dakota and Leila.

Leila wouldn’t meet her eyes. Dakota winked like he was trying to convey a message, but it was hard to tell with him. He might’ve been twitching simply from too much sugary Kool-Aid.

‘We’re at war,’ Michael said. ‘We have to pull together. Dakota and Leila have not been the most enthusiastic supporters. Octavian gave them this one last chance to prove themselves. If they help me bring you in – preferably alive, but dead if necessary – then they keep their rank and prove their loyalty.’

‘To Octavian,’ Reyna noted. ‘Not the legion.’

Michael spread his hands, which were only slightly smaller than baseball mitts. ‘You can’t blame the officers for falling into line. Octavian has a plan to win, and it’s a good plan. At dawn those onagers will destroy the Greek camp without a single loss of Roman life. The gods should be healed.’

Nico stepped in. ‘You’d wipe out half the demigods in the world, half the gods’ legacy, to heal them? You’ll tear apart Olympus before Gaia even wakes up. And she is waking, Centurion.’

Michael scowled. ‘Ambassador of Pluto, son of Hades … whatever you call yourself, you’ve been named an enemy spy. I’ve got orders to take you in for execution.’

‘You can try,’ Nico said coldly.

The face-off was so absurd it should have been humorous. Nico was several years younger, half a foot shorter and fifty pounds lighter. But Michael didn’t make a move. The veins in his neck pulsed.

Dakota coughed. ‘Um, Reyna … just come with us peacefully. Please. We can work this out.’ He was definitely winking at her.

‘All right, enough talk.’ Coach Hedge sized up Michael Kahale. ‘Let me take this joker down. I’ve handled bigger.’

Michael smirked at that. ‘I

’m sure you’re a brave faun, but –’

‘Satyr!’

Coach Hedge leaped at the centurion. He brought his baseball bat down with full force, but Michael simply caught it and yanked it away from the coach. Michael broke the bat over his knee. Then he pushed the coach back, though Reyna could tell Michael wasn’t trying to hurt him.

‘That’s it!’ Hedge growled. ‘Now I’m really mad!’

‘Coach,’ Reyna warned, ‘Michael is very strong. You’d need to be an ogre or a –’

From somewhere off the port side, down at the waterline, a voice yelled, ‘Kahale! What’s taking so long?’

Michael flinched. ‘Octavian?’

‘Of course it’s me!’ yelled the voice from the dark. ‘I got tired of waiting for you to carry out my orders! I’m coming aboard. Everyone on both sides, drop your weapons!’

Michael frowned. ‘Uh … sir? Everyone? Even us?’

‘You don’t solve every problem with a sword or a fist, you big dolt! I can handle these Graecus scum!’

Michael looked unsure about that, but he motioned to Leila and Dakota, who set their swords on the deck.

Reyna glanced at Nico. Obviously, something was wrong. She couldn’t think of any reason Octavian would be here, putting himself in harm’s way. He definitely wouldn’t order his own officers to get rid of their weapons. But Reyna’s instincts told her to play along. She dropped her blade. Nico did the same.

‘Everyone is disarmed, sir,’ Michael called.

‘Good!’ yelled Octavian.

A dark silhouette appeared at the top of the ladder, but he was much too big to be Octavian. A smaller shape with wings fluttered up behind him – a harpy? By the time Reyna realized what was happening, the Cyclops had crossed the deck in two large strides. He bopped Michael Kahale on the head. The centurion fell like a sack of rocks. Dakota and Leila backed away in alarm.

The harpy fluttered to the deckhouse roof. In the moonlight, her feathers were the colour of dried blood.

‘Strong,’ said Ella, preening her wings. ‘Ella’s boyfriend is stronger than Romans.’

Tags: Rick Riordan The Heroes of Olympus Fantasy
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