Leo felt everyone’s eyes on him. “Guys…I don’t know what happened. Honestly, I—”
Annabeth raised her hand. “We’ve been talking. We agree it couldn’t have been you, Leo. That cold feeling you mentioned…I felt it too. It must have been some sort of magic, either Octavian or Gaea or one of her minions. But until we understand what happened—”
Frank grunted. “How can we be sure it won’t happen again?”
Leo’s fingers heated up like they were about to catch fire. One of his powers as a son of Hephaestus was that he could summon flames at will; but he had to be careful not to do so by accident, especially on a ship filled with explosives and flammable supplies.
“I’m fine now,” he insisted, though he wished he could be sure. “Maybe we should use the buddy system. Nobody goes anywhere alone. We can leave Piper and Coach Hedge on board with Jason. Send one team into town to get tar. Another team can go after the bronze and the lime. ”
“Split up?” Percy said. “That sounds like a really bad idea. ”
“It’ll be quicker,” Hazel put in. “Besides, there’s a reason a quest is usually limited to three demigods, right?”
Annabeth raised her eyebrows, as if reappraising Hazel’s merits. “You’re right. The same reason we needed the Argo II…outside camp, seven demigods in one place will attract way too much monstrous attention. The ship is designed to conceal and protect us. We should be safe enough on board; but if we go on expeditions, we shouldn’t travel in groups larger than three. No sense alerting more of Gaea’s minions than we have to. ”
Percy still didn’t look happy about it, but he took Annabeth’s hand. “As long as you’re my buddy, I’m good. ”
Hazel smiled. “Oh, that’s easy. Frank, you were amazing, turning into a dragon! Could you do it again to fly Annabeth and Percy into town for the tar?”
Frank opened his mouth like he wanted to protest. “I…I suppose. But what about you?”
“I’ll ride Arion with Sa—with Leo, here. ” She fidgeted with her sword hilt, which made Leo uneasy. She had even more nervous energy than he did
. “We’ll get the bronze and the lime. We can all meet back here by dark. ”
Frank scowled. Obviously, he didn’t like the idea of Leo going off with Hazel. For some reason, Frank’s disapproval made Leo want to go. He had to prove he was trustworthy. He wasn’t going to fire any random ballistae again.
“Leo,” said Annabeth, “if we get the supplies, how long to fix the ship?”
“With luck, just a few hours. ”
“Fine,” she decided. “We’ll meet you back here as soon as possible, but stay safe. We could use some good luck. That doesn’t mean we’ll get it. ”
Riding Arion was the best thing that had happened to Leo all day—which wasn’t saying much, since his day had sucked. The horse’s hooves turned the surface of the lake to salty mist. Leo put his hand against the horse’s side and felt the muscles working like a well-oiled machine. For the first time, he understood why car engines were measured in horsepower. Arion was a four-legged Maserati.
Ahead of them lay an island—a line of sand so white, it might have been pure table salt. Behind that rose an expanse of grassy dunes and weathered boulders.
Leo sat behind Hazel, one arm around her waist. The close contact made him a little uncomfortable, but it was the only way he could stay on board (or whatever you called it with a horse).
Before they left, Percy had pulled him aside to tell him Hazel’s story. Percy made it sound like he was just doing Leo a favor, but there’d been an undertone like If you mess with my friend, I will personally feed you to a great white shark.
According to Percy, Hazel was a daughter of Pluto. She’d died in the 1940s and been brought back to life only a few months ago.
Leo found that hard to believe. Hazel seemed warm and very alive, not like the ghosts or the other reborn mortals Leo had tangled with.
She seemed good with people, too, unlike Leo, who was much more comfortable with machines. Living stuff, like horses and girls? He had no idea what made them work.
Hazel was also Frank’s girlfriend, so Leo knew he should keep his distance. Still, her hair smelled good, and riding with her made his heart race almost against his will. It must’ve been the speed of the horse.
Arion thundered onto the beach. He stomped his hooves and whinnied triumphantly, like Coach Hedge yelling a battle cry.
Hazel and Leo dismounted. Arion pawed the sand.
“He needs to eat,” Hazel explained. “He likes gold, but—”
“Gold?” Leo asked.
“He’ll settle for grass. Go on, Arion. Thanks for the ride. I’ll call you. ”
Just like that, the horse was gone—nothing left but a steaming trail across the lake.
“Fast horse,” Leo said, “and expensive to feed. ”
“Not really,” Hazel said. “Gold is easy for me. ”
Leo raised his eyebrows. “How is gold easy? Please tell me you’re not related to King Midas. I don’t like that guy. ”