The Argo II returned fire. Legionnaires in the field scattered as one of their catapults was blasted to splinters.
“You see?” Octavian screamed. “Romans, kill the invaders!”
Annabeth growled in frustration. There was no time for anyone to figure out the truth. The crew from Camp Half-Blood was outnumbered a hundred to one, and even if Octavian had managed to stage some sort of trick (which she thought likely), they’d never be able to convince the Romans before they were overrun and killed.
“We have to leave,” she told Percy. “Now. ”
He nodded grimly. “Hazel, Frank, you’ve got to make a choice. Are you coming?”
Hazel looked terrified, but she donned her cavalry helmet. “Of course we are. But you’ll never make it to the ship unless we buy you some time. ”
“How?” Annabeth asked.
Hazel whistled. Instantly a blur of beige shot across the forum. A majestic horse materialized next to the fountain. He reared, whinnying and scattering the mob. Hazel climbed on his back like she’d been born to ride. Strapped to the horse’s saddle was a Roman cavalry sword.
Hazel unsheathed her golden blade. “Send me an Iris-message when you’re safely away, and we’ll rendezvous,” she said. “Arion, ride!”
The horse zipped through the crowd with incredible speed, pushing back Romans and causing mass panic.
Annabeth felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe they could make it out of here alive. Then, from halfway across the forum, she heard Jason shouting.
“Romans!” he cried. “Please!”
He and Piper were being pelted with plates and stones. Jason tried to shield Piper, but a brick caught him above the eye. He crumpled, and the crowd surged forward.
“Get back!” Piper screamed. Her charmspeak rolled over the mob, making them hesitate, but Annabeth knew the effect wouldn’t last. Percy and she couldn’t possibly reach them in time to help.
“Frank,” Percy said, “it’s up to you. Can you help them?”
Annabeth didn’t understand how Frank could do th
at all by himself, but he swallowed nervously.
“Oh, gods,” he murmured. “Okay, sure. Just get up the ropes. Now. ”
Percy and Annabeth lunged for the ladder. Octavian was still clinging to the bottom, but Percy yanked him off and threw him into the mob.
They began to climb as armed legionnaires flooded into the forum. Arrows whistled past Annabeth’s head. An explosion almost knocked her off the ladder. Halfway up, she heard a roar below and glanced down.
Romans screamed and scattered as a full-sized dragon charged through the forum—a beast even scarier than the bronze dragon figurehead on the Argo II. It had rough gray skin like a Komodo lizard’s and leathery bat wings. Arrows and rocks bounced harmlessly off its hide as it lumbered toward Piper and Jason, grabbed them with its front claws, and vaulted into the air.
“Is that… ?” Annabeth couldn’t even put the thought into words.
“Frank,” Percy confirmed, a few feet above her. “He has a few special talents. ”
“Understatement,” Annabeth muttered. “Keep climbing!”
Without the dragon and Hazel’s horse to distract the archers, they never would have made it up the ladder; but finally they climbed past a row of broken aerial oars and onto the deck. The rigging was on fire. The foresail was ripped down the middle, and the ship listed badly to starboard.
There was no sign of Coach Hedge, but Leo stood amidships, calmly reloading the ballista. Annabeth’s gut twisted with horror.
“Leo!” she screamed. “What are you doing?”
“Destroy them…” He faced Annabeth. His eyes were glazed. His movements were like a robot’s. “Destroy them all. ”
He turned back to the ballista, but Percy tackled him. Leo’s head hit the deck hard, and his eyes rolled up so that only the whites showed.
The gray dragon soared into view. It circled the ship once and landed at the bow, depositing Jason and Piper, who both collapsed.
“Go!” Percy yelled. “Get us out of here!”
With a shock, Annabeth realized he was talking to her.
She ran for the helm. She made the mistake of glancing over the rail and saw armed legionnaires closing ranks in the forum, preparing flaming arrows. Hazel spurred Arion, and they raced out of the city with a mob chasing after them. More catapults were being wheeled into range. All along the Pomerian Line, the statues of Terminus were glowing purple, as if building up energy for some kind of attack.
Annabeth looked over the controls. She cursed Leo for making them so complicated. No time for fancy maneuvers, but she did know one basic command: Up.
She grabbed the aviation throttle and yanked it straight back. The ship groaned. The bow tilted up at a horrifying angle. The mooring lines snapped, and the Argo II shot into the clouds.
Leo wished he could invent a time machine. He’d go back two hours and undo what had happened. Either that, or he could invent a Slap-Leo-in-the-Face machine to punish himself, though he doubted it would hurt as badly as the look Annabeth was giving him.
“One more time,” she said. “Exactly what happened?”