- The Lost Hero
The angels pulled up in front of the dragon and hovered there, swords at the ready.
The hockey ox grunted. “No clearance.”
“’Scuse me?” Leo said.
“You have no flight plan on file,” explained the groovy love god. On top of his other problems, he had a French accent so bad Leo was sure it was fake. “This is restricted airspace.”
“Destroy them?” The ox showed off his gap-toothed grin.
The dragon began to hiss steam, ready to defend them. Jason summoned his golden sword, but Leo cried, “Hold on!
Let’s have some manners here, boys. Can I at least find out who has the honor of destroying me?”
“I am Cal!” the ox grunted. He looked very proud of himself, like he’d taken a long time to memorize that sentence.
“That’s short for Calais,” the love god said. “Sadly, my brother cannot say words with more than two syllables—”
“Pizza! Hockey! Destroy!” Cal offered.
“—which includes his own name,” the love god finished.
“I am Cal,” Cal repeated. “And this is Zethes! My brother!”
“Wow,” Leo said. “That was almost three sentences, man! Way to go.”
Cal grunted, obviously pleased with himself.
“Stupid buffoon,” his brother grumbled. “They make fun of you. But no matter. I am Zethes, which is short for Zethes. And the lady there—” He winked at Piper, but the wink was more like a facial seizure. “She can call me anything she likes. Perhaps she would like to have dinner with a famous demigod before we must destroy you?”
Piper made a sound like gagging on a cough drop. “That’s … a truly horrifying offer.”
“It is no problem.” Zethes wiggled his eyebrows. “We are a very romantic people, we Boreads.”
“Boreads?” Jason cut in. “Do you mean, like, the sons of Boreas?”
“Ah, so you’ve heard of us!” Zethes looked pleased. “We are our father’s gatekeepers. So you understand, we cannot have unauthorized people flying in his airspace on creaky dragons, scaring the silly mortal peoples.”
He pointed below, and Leo saw that the mortals were starting to take notice. Several were pointing up—not with alarm, yet—more with confusion and annoyance, like the dragon was a traffic helicopter flying too low.
“Which is sadly why, unless this is an emergency landing,” Zethes said, brushing his hair out of his acne-covered face, “we will have to destroy you painfully.”
“Destroy!” Cal agreed, with a little more enthusiasm than Leo thought necessary.
“Wait!” Piper said. “This is an emergency landing.”
“Awww!” Cal looked so disappointed, Leo almost felt sorry for him.
Zethes studied Piper, which of course he’d already been doing. “How does the pretty girl decide this is an emergency, then?”
“We have to see Boreas. It’s totally urgent! Please?” She forced a smile, which Leo figured must’ve been killing her; but she still had that blessing of Aphrodite thing going on, and she looked great. Something about her voice, too—Leo found himself believing every word. Jason was nodding, looking absolutely convinced.
Zethes picked at his silk shirt, probably making sure it was still open wide enough. “Well … I hate to disappoint a lovely lady, but you see, my sister, she would have an avalanche if we allowed you—”
“And our dragon is malfunctioning!” Piper added. “It could crash any minute!”
Festus shuddered helpfully, then turned his head and spilled gunk out of his ear, splattering a black Mercedes in the parking lot below.
“No destroy?” Cal whimpered.
Zethes pondered the problem. Then he gave Piper another spasmodic wink. “Well, you are pretty. I mean, you’re right. A malfunctioning dragon—this could be an emergency.”
“Destroy them later?” Cal offered, which was probably as close to friendly as he ever got.
“It will take some explaining,” Zethes decided. “Father has not been kind to visitors lately. But, yes. Come, faulty dragon people. Follow us.”
The Boreads sheathed their swords and pulled smaller weapons from their belts—or at least Leo thought they were weapons. Then the Boreads switched them on, and Leo realized they were flashlights with orange cones, like the ones traffic controller guys use on a runway. Cal and Zethes turned and swooped toward the hotel’s tower.
Leo turned to his friends. “I love these guys. Follow them?”
Jason and Piper didn’t look eager.
“I guess,” Jason decided. “We’re here now. But I wonder why Boreas hasn’t been kind to visitors.”
“Pfft, he just hasn’t met us.” Leo whistled. “Festus, after those flashlights!”
As they got closer, Leo worried they’d crash into the tower. The Boreads made right for the green gabled peak and didn’t slow down. Then a section of the slanted roof slid open, revealing an entrance easily wide enough for Festus. The top and bottom were lined with icicles like jagged teeth.
“This cannot be good,” Jason muttered, but Leo spurred the dragon downward, and they swooped in after the Boreads.
They landed in what must have been the penthouse suite; but the place had been hit by a flash freeze. The entry hall had vaulted ceilings forty feet high, huge draped windows, and lush oriental carpets. A staircase at the back of the room led up to another equally massive hall, and more corridors branched off to the left and right. But the ice made the room’s beauty a little frightening. When Leo slid off the dragon, the carpet crunched under his feet. A fine layer of frost covered the furniture. The curtains didn’t budge because they were frozen solid, and the ice-coated windows let in weird watery light from the sunset. Even the ceiling was furry with icicles. As for the stairs, Leo was sure he’d slip and break his neck if he tried to climb them.
“Guys,” Leo said, “fix the thermostat in here, and I would totally move in.”
“Not me.” Jason looked uneasily at the staircase. “Something feels wrong. Something up there …”
Festus shuddered and snorted flames. Frost started to form on his scales.
“No, no, no.” Zethes marched over, though how he could walk in those pointy leather shoes, Leo had no idea. “The dragon must be deactivated. We can’t have fire in here. The heat ruins my hair.”
Festus growled and spun his drill-bit teeth.
“’S’okay, boy.” Leo turned to Zethes. “The dragon’s a little touchy about the whole deactivation concept. But I’ve got a better solution.”
“Destroy?” Cal suggested.
“No, man. You gotta stop with the destroy talk. Just wait.”
“Leo,” Piper said nervously, “what are you—”
“Watch and learn, beauty queen. When I was repairing Festus last night, I found all kinds of buttons. Some, you do not want to know what they do. But others … Ah, here we go.”
Leo hooked his fingers behind the dragon’s left foreleg. He pulled a switch, and the dragon shuddered from head to toe. Everyone backed away as Festus folded like origami. His bronze plating stacked together. His neck and tail contracted into his body. His wings collapsed and his trunk compacted until he was a rectangular metal wedge the size of a suitcase.
Leo tried to lift it, but the thing weighed about six billion pounds. “Um … yeah. Hold on. I think—aha.”
He pushed another button. A handle flipped up on the top, and wheels clicked out on the bottom.
“Ta-da!” he announced. “The world’s heaviest carry-on bag!”
“That’s impossible,” Jason said. “Something that big couldn’t—”
“Stop!” Zethes ordered. He and Cal both drew their swords and glared at Leo.
Leo raised his hands. “Okay … what’d I do? Stay calm, guys. If it bothers you that much, I don’t have to take the dragon as carry-on—”
“Who are you?” Zethes shoved the point of his sword against Leo’s chest. “A child of the South Wind, spying on us?”
“What? No!” Leo said. “Son of Hephaestus. Friendly blacksmith, no harm to anyone!”
Cal growled. He put his face up to Leo’s, and he definitely wasn’t any prettier at point-blank, with his bruised eyes and bashed-in mouth. “Smell fire,” he said. “Fire is bad.”
“Oh.” Leo’s heart raced. “Yeah, well … my clothes are kind of singed, and I’ve been working with oil, and—”
“No!” Zethes pushed Leo back at sword point. “We can smell fire, demigod. We assumed it was from the creaky dragon, but now the dragon is a suitcase. And I still smell fire … on you.”
If it hadn’t been like three degrees in the penthouse, Leo would’ve started sweating. “Hey … look … I don’t know—” He glanced at his friends desperately. “Guys, a little help?”
Jason already had his gold coin in his hand. He stepped forward, his eyes on Zethes. “Look, there’s been a mistake. Leo isn’t a fire guy. Tell them, Leo. Tell them you’re not a fire guy.”
“Zethes?” Piper tried her dazzling smile again, though she looked a little too nervous and cold to pull it off. “We’re all friends here. Put down your swords and let’s talk.”
“The girl is pretty,” Zethes admitted, “and of course she cannot help being attracted to my amazingness; but sadly, I cannot romance her at this time.” He poked his sword point farther into Leo’s chest, and Leo could feel the frost spreading across his shirt, turning his skin numb.
He wished he could reactivate Festus. He needed some backup. But it would’ve taken several minutes, even if he could reach the button, with two purple-winged crazy guys in his path.
“Destroy him now?” Cal asked his brother.
Zethes nodded. “Sadly, I think—”
“No,” Jason insisted. He sounded calm enough, but Leo figured he was about two seconds away from flipping that coin and going into full gladiator mode. “Leo’s just a son of Hephaestus. He’s no threat. Piper here is a daughter of Aphrodite. I’m the son of Zeus. We’re on a peaceful …”
Jason’s voice faltered, because both Boreads had suddenly turned on him.
“What did you say?” Zethes demanded. “You are the son of Zeus?”
“Um … yeah,” Jason said. “That’s a good thing, right? My name is Jason.”
Cal looked so surprised, he almost dropped his sword. “Can’t be Jason,” he said. “Doesn’t look the same.”
Zethes stepped forward and squinted at Jason’s face. “No, he is not our Jason. Our Jason was more stylish. Not as much as me—but stylish. Besides, our Jason died millennia ago.”
“Wait,” Jason said. “Your Jason … you mean the original Jason? The Golden Fleece guy?”