“I was born for hurt!”
WHOOM! A swell of salt water washed over the bow, dousing Coach Hedge. The Argo II listed dangerously to starboard, then righted itself and rocked on the surface of the lake. Machinery hummed as the aerial blades that were still working changed to nautical form.
Three banks of robotic oars dipped into the water and began moving them forward.
“Good job, Festus,” Leo said. “Take us toward the south shore. ”
“Yeah!” Coach Hedge pumped his fists in the air. He was drenched from his horns to hooves, but grinning like a crazy goat. “Do it again!”
“Uh…maybe later,” Leo said. “Just stay above deck, okay? You can keep watch, in case—you know, the lake decides to attack us or something. ”
“On it,” Hedge promised.
Leo rang the All clear bell and headed for the stairs. Before he got there, a loud clump-clump-clump shook the hull. A tan stallion appeared on deck with Hazel Levesque on his back.
“How—?” Leo’s question died in his throat. “We’re in the middle of a lake! Can that thing fly?”
The horse whinnied angrily.
“Arion can’t fly,” Hazel said. “But he can run across just about anything. Water, vertical surfaces, small mountains—none of that bothers him. ”
Hazel was looking at him strangely, the way she had during the feast in the forum—like she was searching for something in his face. He was tempted to ask if they had met before, but he was sure they hadn’t. He would remember a pretty girl paying such close attention to him. That didn’t happen a lot.
She’s Frank’s girlfriend, he reminded himself.
Frank was still below, but Leo almost wished the big guy would come up the stairs. The way Hazel was studying Leo made him feel uneasy and self-conscious.
Coach Hedge crept forward with his baseball bat, eyeing the magic horse suspiciously. “Valdez, does this count as an invasion?”
“No!” Leo said. “Um, Hazel, you’d better come with me. I built a stable belowdecks, if Arion wants to—”
“He’s more of a free spirit. ” Hazel slipped out of the saddle. “He’ll graze around the lake until I call him. But I want to see the ship. Lead the way. ”
The Argo II was designed like an ancient trireme, only twice as big. The first deck had one central corridor with crew cabins on either side. On a normal trireme, most of the space would’ve been taken up with three rows of benches for a few hundred sweaty guys to do the manual labor, but Leo’s oars were automated and retractable, so they took up very little room inside the hull. The ship’s power came from the engine room on the second and lowest deck, which also housed sickbay, storage, and the stables.
Leo led the way down the hall. He’d built the ship with eight cabins—seven for the demigods of the prophecy, and a room for Coach Hedge (Seriously—Chiron considered him a responsible adult chaperone?). At the stern was a large mess hall/lounge, which was where Leo headed.
On the way, they passed Jason’s room. The door was open. Piper sat at the side of his berth, holding Jason’s hand while he snored with an ice pack on his head.
Piper glanced at Leo. She held a finger to her lips for quiet, but she didn’t look angry. That was something. Leo tried to force down his guilt, and they kept walking. When they reached the mess hall, they found the others—Percy, Annabeth, and Frank—sitting dejectedly around the dining table.
Leo had made the lounge as nice as possible, since he figured they’d be spending a lot of time there. The cupboard was lined with magic cups and plates from Camp Half-Blood, which would fill up with whatever food or drink you wanted on command. There was also a magical ice chest with canned drinks, perfect for picnics ashore. The chairs were cushy recliners with thousand-finger massage, built-in headphones, and sword and drink holders for all your demigod kicking-back needs. There were no windows, but the walls were enchanted to show real-time footage from Camp Half-Blood—the beach, the forest, the strawberry fields—although now Leo was wondering if this made people homesick rather than happy.
Percy was staring longingly at a sunset view of Half-Blood Hill, where the Golden Fleece glittered in the branches of the tall pine tree.
“So we’ve landed,” Percy said. “What now?”
Frank plucked on his bowstring. “Figure out the prophecy? I mean…that was a prophecy Ella spoke, right? From the Sibylline Books?”
“The what?” Leo asked.
Frank explained how their harpy friend was freakishly good at memorizing books. At some point in the past, she’d inhaled a collection of ancient prophecies that had supposedly been destroyed around the fall of Rome.
“That’s why you didn’t tell the Romans,” Leo guessed. “You didn’t want them to get hold of her. ”
Percy kept staring at the image of Half-Blood Hill. “Ella’s sensitive. She was a captive when we found her. I just didn’t want…” He made a fist. “It doesn’t matter now. I sent Tyson an Iris-message, told him to take Ella to Camp Half-Blood. They’ll be safe there. ”
Leo doubted that any of them would be safe, now that he had stirred up a camp of angry Romans on top of the problems they already had with Gaea and the giants; but he kept quiet.
Annabeth laced her fingers. “Let me think about the prophecy—but right now we have more immediate problems. We have to get this ship fixed. Leo, what do we need?”
“The easiest thing is tar. ” Leo was glad to change the subject. “We can get that in the city, at a roofing-supply store or someplace like that. Also, Celestial bronze and lime. According to Festus, we can find both of those on an island in the lake, just west of here. ”
“We’ll have to hurry,” Hazel warned. “If I know Octavian, he’s searching for us with his auguries. The Romans will send a strike force after us. It’s a matter of honor. ”