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Smoke on the Horizon

By Clare Zicari

Fantasy / Adventure

I. Leo

I. LEO


Leo was just about done with water.

He and Calypso had been flying for days now - or was it hours? For all he knew, it had only been ten minutes since they'd left the island of Ogygia, but the endless waves that churned below them made it impossible to keep track of time.

Leo turned his head and glanced behind him. "How long do you think it's been?"

"It's hard to say," his beautiful, immortal companion said wistfully. "Time - "

" - is hard here," he finished with a sigh. He'd seen that one coming. Leo had hoped he would never have to hear that phrase again. It was starting to wear on his nerves.

Below him, Festus the dragon creaked and groaned.

"I know bud, just a little longer." The bronze dragon was, against all logic, still flying. Even Leo, who had complete faith in his friend, had trouble believing it.

Only a year before, Festus had been all but destroyed when he crash-landed in Omaha, curtesy of her Royal Annoyingness, the snow goddess Khione. Then, after that, Leo had integrated Festus into his ship, the Argo II, and they along with the rest of their crew had taken on the dirt-faced Earth Mother herself, Gaea.

Now Festus puffed along, badly damaged from their recent battle with the goddess, above an uncharted ocean with Leo and Calypso on his back. Best of all - not one of them had a clue where they were headed, and that included the dragon complete with GPS navigation and the magical astrolabe constructed by Odysseus himself, completed by Leo Valdez.

Festus shook his head and clicked in protest, spewing steam and giving a shudder that reverberated through his entire bronze-plated body. Calypso gasped and clung tighter to Leo, looking in desperation at the dark water below.

"It's fine," Leo said, though he wasn't so sure it would be for much longer.

Festus's circuits must have been close to overloading. Even though he'd been permanently woken up by Piper's charmspeak, he could still succumb to exhaustion.

The gods knew how much more ocean they had to cross before they reached land. If we reach land, Leo thought.

No. We will make it back, he decided. I didn't come back from the dead and risk my life for Calypso just to run into engine trouble half way home and sink in the freaking ocean.

He dared a peek inside the dragon's head, popping the hatch on the back of Festus's neck to investigate the condition of his wiring. Gears whirred and clanged away, steaming as their heat was exposed to the cool ocean air.

The temperature that the equipment had reached from its exertion would probably have burned anyone else who prodded around in the automaton's circuitry.

Lucky for Leo, he wasn't anyone else. He was a son of Hephaestus. Heat came with the territory.

He closed the panel again and turned his attention back to the sea that simply kept coming at them, extending all the way to the horizon.

"You'd think with all this water, there'd be some kind of life," he said.

"What do you mean?" Calypso's eyebrows knit together in confusion.

"Well, water's like, the one thing all life needs to survive, right? And we are in the middle of an ocean. Pretty much the ultimate water source. But have we seen any kind of sea-life so far?"

He extended his arms, gesturing to the spartan expanse around them as if to prove his point. Gods of Olympus - he hadn't realized how sore he was. He had difficulty forcing his arms back down again, setting them at his sides as he tried to shake the stiffness out of his body the best one can while riding a giant metal dragon forty feet above the ocean.

Calypso nodded thoughtfully. "Just because there isn't anything on the surface doesn't mean there's nothing underneath."

This did not make Leo feel any better. In fact, all it did was make him sorry he'd said anything at all. Now, every time he looked at that black, turbulent current he couldn't help but imagine what was lurking beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, what came to mind was not the Little Mermaid.

Soon (or what Leo perceived to be "soon"), pink wisps spread across the evening sky and darkness began to set in. Leo yawned. His eyes felt heavy, but he was determined to keep awake until they reached land.

Calypso placed her hand on his shoulder. "Sleep. You need it," she said quietly.

Leo began to protest but her voice made the suggestion too tempting and his eyes drooped. Against his will, his chin slumped to his chest and Leo fell headlong into his dreams.

Leo stood in a vast field that stretched out as far as he could see.

So I'm dead, was his first thought. And these are the Fields of Punishment.

But that didn't make sense. From what he'd been told (by people with firsthand Underworld experience and Leo wasn't about to argue with their accounts), the Fields of Punishment were brutal and filled with miserable, tortured souls. He was pretty sure it wasn't this quiet or this empty.

Maybe they all went to a movie. No. No, that was a stupid idea, even for Leo. Even if there was a movie theater in the Underworld, the flicks they played were probably all bad, corny Sy-Fy or Hallmark productions - movies fit for eternal damnation.

He did a three-sixty, scoping out his surroundings and the not-so-punishy field, and found himself face to face with a massive mountain face.

Leo took a step back, in awe of the staggering size of the rock.

CRUNCH

He slowly lifted his foot and looked down. Where he had stepped, pressed into the dirt was a small piece of glass. Leo bent over and picked it up. It's ragged edges were dangerously sharp and the shard sat perfectly within the palm of his hand.

His face reflected back at him in the weathered surface, dark eyes and unkempt hair, but suddenly he glimpsed something else. Just a flash - like an afterimage, overlaid on his own. He looked closer, trying to catch it again, but his focus was disrupted as he heard something above him.

Leo looked up just in time to see a very large chunk of the rock face tumbling down the mountain at terminal velocity, headed straight towards him.

He dove out of the way as the ledge slammed into the earth, shattering a foot from where Leo now crouched in the dirt. He gazed intently back up at where it had fallen from, looking for anything, or anyone, who could have dislodged such a massive piece of stone, but he saw nothing. The cliff was bare. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he sensed movement behind him.

He spun, holding the fractured shard of glass in front of him like a dagger -

The dream shifted.

Leo was in the dining pavilion back at Camp Half Blood. The place was deserted save for the long buffet tables and hearth at the head of the room. It was light, but the grounds seemed empty. Perhaps all the campers were still sleeping back in their cabins or in the midst of a game of Capture the Flag. He heard voices off to his right, urgent and soft, as if they didn't want to be overheard.

"Yes I know," one was saying. It was Jason Grace, Leo's best friend and son of Zeus - sorry, Jupiter.

"You heard what Rachel said." Piper was huddled next to him, sitting on the pavilion steps. "And with the Prophecies still not working - "

"I know, but what can we do here?" Jason asked, obviously flustered.

"Leo...Leo was the one good with all that stuff. But - " His voice broke. Piper leaned her head against his shoulder.

The way they spoke about him, as if he were dead, made Leo a little angry.

He wanted to yell at them that he was right there, that he could hear them, throw some fireballs their way maybe. But then he remembered that that was exactly what they must have thought. After all, he had been dead.

And at the moment, to them he still was. His anger then morphed into sadness. He had known his fair share of death and destruction, but as he thought about it, he realized he couldn't imagine what it might feel like if one of his friends died. They'd come close of course, but he'd never had the luxury to think too hard about the possibility. It was just a given, something to be dealt with as it came. But to lose Jason or Piper...

He pushed those thoughts from his head.

He was Leo Valdez, son of Hephaestus, doer of the impossible. He was headed back to his friends and he would make it. However long it took, he would get there, riding in on a blaze of glory, or more specifically, the blaze of Festus the giant bronze dragon.

His subconscious must have eventually picked up on the strangeness of the situation at hand for he suddenly found himself putting everything that stood around him into perspective. Leo stood leaning against a Greek style column near the head table in the dining pavilion at Camp Half Blood, listening in on a conversation about his own death between his two best friends. Meanwhile, he was actually asleep on the back of a metal dragon with a beautiful girl, flying across an ocean as imaginary as this dream was. And then it broke.

Jason turned to him and said, "Leo, wake up. We're going to die."

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