“You have a lot of accidents,” Frank noted.
“Well, some of us can’t turn into dragons, so we have to build our own. ” Leo arched his eyebrows at Frank. “Anyway, I revived him as a figurehead. He’s kind of the ship’s main interface now. How are things looking, Festus?”
Festus snorted smoke and made a series of squeaking, whirring sounds. Over the last few months, Leo had learned to interpret this machine language. Other demigods could understand Latin and Greek. Leo could speak Creak and Squeak.
“Ugh,” Leo said. “Could be worse, but the hull is compromised in several places. The port aerial oars have to be fixed before we can go full speed again. We’ll need some repair materials: Celestial bronze, tar, lime—”
“What do you need limes for?”
“Dude, lime. Calcium carbonate, used in cement and a bunch of other— Ah, never mind. The point is, this ship isn’t going far unless we can fix it. ”
Festus made another click-creak noise that Leo didn’t recognize. It sounded like AY-zuhl.
“Oh…Hazel,” he deciphered. “That’s the girl with the curly hair, right?”
Frank gulped. “Is she okay?”
“Yeah, she’s fine,” Leo said. “According to Festus, her horse is racing along below. She’s following us. ”
“We’ve got to land, then,” Frank said.
Leo studied him. “She’s your girlfriend?”
Frank chewed his lip. “Yes. ”
“You don’t sound sure. ”
“Yes. Yes, definitely. I’m sure. ”
Leo raised his hands. “Okay, fine. The problem is we can only manage one landing. The way the hull and the oars are, we won’t be able to lift off again until we repair, so we’ll have to make sure we land somewhere with all the right supplies. ”
Frank scratched his head. “Where do you get Celestial bronze? You can’t just stock up at Home Depot. ”
“Festus, do a scan. ”
“He can scan for ma
gic bronze?” Frank marveled. “Is there anything he can’t do?”
Leo thought: You should’ve seen him when he had a body. But he didn’t say that. It was too painful, remembering the way Festus used to be.
Leo peered over the ship’s bow. The Central California valley was passing below. Leo didn’t hold out much hope that they could find what they needed all in one place, but they had to try. Leo also wanted to put as much distance as possible between himself and New Rome. The Argo II could cover vast distances pretty quickly, thanks to its magical engine, but Leo figured the Romans had magic travel methods of their own.
Behind him, the stairs creaked. Percy and Annabeth climbed up, their faces grim.
Leo’s heart stumbled. “Is Jason—?”
“He’s resting,” Annabeth said. “Piper’s keeping an eye on him, but he should be fine. ”
Percy gave him a hard look. “Annabeth says you did fire the ballista?”
“Man, I—I don’t understand how it happened. I’m so sorry—”
“Sorry?” Percy growled.
Annabeth put a hand on her boyfriend’s chest. “We’ll figure it out later. Right now, we have to regroup and make a plan. What’s the situation with the ship?”
Leo’s legs trembled. The way Percy had looked at him made him feel the same as when Jason summoned lightning. Leo’s skin tingled, and every instinct in his body screamed, Duck!
He told Annabeth about the damage and the supplies they needed. At least he felt better talking about something fixable.
He was bemoaning the shortage of Celestial bronze when Festus began to whir and squeak.
“Perfect. ” Leo sighed with relief.
“What’s perfect?” Annabeth said. “I could use some perfect about now. ”
Leo managed a smile. “Everything we need in one place. Frank, why don’t you turn into a bird or something? Fly down and tell your girlfriend to meet us at the Great Salt Lake in Utah. ”
Once they got there, it wasn’t a pretty landing. With the oars damaged and the foresail torn, Leo could barely manage a controlled descent. The others strapped themselves in below—except for Coach Hedge, who insisted on clinging to the forward rail, yelling, “YEAH! Bring it on, lake!” Leo stood astern, alone at the helm, and aimed as best he could.
Festus creaked and whirred warning signals, which were relayed through the intercom to the quarterdeck.
“I know, I know,” Leo said, gritting his teeth.
He didn’t have much time to take in the scenery. To the southeast, a city was nestled in the foothills of a mountain range, blue and purple in the afternoon shadows. A flat desert landscape spread to the south. Directly beneath them the Great Salt Lake glittered like aluminum foil, the shoreline etched with white salt marshes that reminded Leo of aerial photos of Mars.
“Hang on, Coach!” he shouted. “This is going to hurt. ”