LEO WAS DEAD.
He knew that with absolute certainty. He just didn’t understand why it hurt so much. He felt like every cell in his body had exploded. Now his consciousness was trapped inside a charred crispy husk of demigod roadkill. The nausea was worse than any carsickness he’d ever had. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t see or hear. He could only feel pain.
He started to panic, thinking maybe this was his eternal punishment.
Then somebody put jumper cables on his brain and restarted his life.
He gasped and sat up.
The first thing he felt was the wind in his face, then the searing pain in his right arm. He was still on Festus’s back, still in the air. His eyes started to work again, and he noticed the large hypodermic needle retracting from his forearm. The empty injector buzzed, whirred and retreated into a panel on Festus’s neck.
‘Thanks, buddy.’ Leo groaned. ‘Man, being dead sucked. But that physician’s cure? That stuff is worse.’
Festus clicked and clattered in Morse code.
‘No, man, I’m not serious,’ Leo said. ‘I’m glad to be alive. And, yeah, I love you too. You did awesome.’
A metallic purr ran the length of the dragon’s body.
First things first: Leo scanned the dragon for signs of damage. Festus’s wings were working properly, though his left medius membrane was shot full of holes. His neck plating was partially fused, melted from the explosion, but the dragon didn’t seem to be in danger of crashing immediately.
Leo tried to remember what had happened. He was pretty sure he had defeated Gaia, but he had no idea how his friends were doing back at Camp Half-Blood. Hopefully Jason and Piper had got clear of the blast. Leo had a weird memory of a missile hurtling towards him and screaming like a little girl … what the heck had that been about?
Once he landed, he’d have to check Festus’s underbelly. The most serious damage would probably be in that area, where the dragon had courageously grappled with Gaia while they blowtorched the sludge out of her. There was no telling how long Festus had been aloft. He’d need to set down soon.
Which raised the question: where were they?
Below was a solid white blanket of clouds. The sun shone directly overhead in a brilliant blue sky. So it was about noon … but of which day? How long had Leo been dead?
‘Festus, good news!’ he shouted. ‘Our navigation readings are completely messed up!’
Festus said, Creak?
‘Yeah! Descend! Get us below these clouds and maybe –’
The dragon plummeted so fast that the breath was sucked out of Leo’s lungs.
They broke through the blanket of white and there, below them, was a single green island in a vast blue sea.
Leo whooped so loudly they probably heard him in China. ‘YEAH! WHO DIED? WHO CAME BACK? WHO’S YOUR FREAKIN’ SUPERSIZED McSHIZZLE NOW, BABY? WOOOOOOOO!’
They spiralled towards Ogygia, the warm wind in Leo’s hair. He realized his clothes were in tatters, despite the magic they’d been woven with. His arms were covered in a fine layer of soot, like he’d just died in a massive fire … which, of course, he had.
But he couldn’t worry about any of that.
She was standing on the beach, wearing jeans and a white blouse, her amber hair pulled back.
Festus spread his wings and landed with a stumble. Apparently one of his legs was broken. The dragon pitched sideways and catapulted Leo face-first into the sand.
So much for a heroic entrance.
Leo looked up. Calypso stood over him, her arms crossed, her eyebrows arched.
‘You’re late,’ she announced. Her eyes gleamed.
‘Sorry, Sunshine,’ Leo said. ‘Traffic was murder.’
‘You are covered with soot,’ she noted. ‘And you managed to ruin the clothes I made for you, which were impossible to ruin.’
‘Well, you know.’ Leo shrugged. Somebody had released a hundred pachinko balls in his chest. ‘I’m all about doing the impossible.’
She offered her hand and helped him up. They stood nose to nose as she studied his condition. She smelled like cinnamon. Had she always had that tiny freckle next to her left eye? Leo really wanted to touch it.
She wrinkled her nose. ‘You smell –’
‘I know. Like I’ve been dead. Probably because I have been. Oath to keep with a final breath and all, but I’m better now –’
She stopped him with a kiss.
The pachinko balls slammed around inside him. He felt so happy he had to make a conscious effort not to burst into flames.
When she finally let him go, her face was covered in soot smudges. She didn’t seem to care. She traced her thumb across his cheekbone.
‘Leo Valdez,’ she said.
‘That’s me,’ he said, his voice ragged. ‘So, um … you want to get off this island?’
Calypso stepped back. She raised one hand and the winds swirled. Her invisible servants brought two suitcases and set them at her feet. ‘What gave you that idea?’
Leo grinned. ‘Packed for a long trip, huh?’
‘I don’t plan on coming back.’ Calypso glanced over her shoulder, at the path that led to her garden and her cavern home. ‘Where will you take me, Leo?’
‘Somewhere to fix my dragon, first,’ he decided. ‘And then … wherever you want. How long was I gone, seriously?’
‘Time is difficult on Ogygia,’ Calypso said. ‘It felt like forever.’
Leo had a stab of doubt. He hoped his friends were okay. He hoped a hundred years hadn’t passed while he was flying around dead and Festus searched for Ogygia.
He would have to find out. He needed to let Jason and Piper and the others know he was okay. But right now … priorities. Calypso was a priority.
‘So once you leave Ogygia,’ he said, ‘do you stay immortal or what?’
‘I have no idea.’
‘And you’re okay with that?’
‘More than okay.’
‘Well, then!’ He turned towards his dragon. ‘Buddy, you up for another flight to nowhere in particular?’
Festus blew fire and limped around.
Leo turned up his palms. ‘That’s how I fly, Sunshine. Can I get your bags?’
Five minutes later, with Calypso’s arms around his waist, Leo spurred Festus into flight. The bronze dragon spread his wings, and they soared into the unknown.