Leo had to admit, being on Back-up duty really wasn’t that great. In fact, it kind of sucked. Festus wasn’t too happy about it either. He kept clicking and shaking his head as if eager to do something, like blast the monster below with some fire. That’s what Leo was eager to do at least.
But no, he and the dragon were told to stay far enough away that Cetus wouldn’t see the glint of bronze in the sun. It made sense, and Leo got it. They all had to do what they could to make sure this thing worked, crazy as it seemed. And what Leo had to do was keep away, only coming down if something went wrong.
Which it probably would.
He just wished he could shake the feeling that something else was wrong, something that had nothing to do with this quest or Cetus.
Ever since he’d arrived back at camp, he hadn’t been able to escape the strange looks he seemed to get, even from Jason and Piper. He always felt like someone was watching him, inspecting him from afar. But maybe it was just nerves. Some weird paranoia that came with coming back from the dead. All the same, something seemed off and it felt to Leo that people did their best to distance themselves from him.
Being alone now high away from the others didn’t help to dispel that notion.
Leo began to drift, no longer paying attention to the small dots that were the other pegasi hovering in the distance, and focused instead on the clouds. They were the big ones, the kind that he vaguely remembered the term cumulonimbus was used to describe.
“Look, Festus. There’s another dragon,” he said, pointing lazily to a generally large cloud to their right. Festus looked up but was otherwise uninterested. “And there’s a gryphon, and that one looks like Coach Hedge, and look. A pegasus. With Annabeth riding it.” Indeed, there was a pegasus, not one made out of water-vapor but the white one named Porkpie, with a very real, very serious looking Annabeth flying towards them.
It would appear that something had gone wrong.
She nodded to him and motioned for Leo to follow her as she turned and headed back down toward the sea.
They arrived in no time, the other pegasi and demigods now clustered just at the water’s surface, peering down into the dark, calm sea as if they had all lost a contact lens and were extremely worried about finding it.
“What’s going on?” Leo said, glancing around the circle. His eyes caught Blackjack, the pegasus’ startlingly black wings fluttering anxiously as he whipped back and forth above the surface, pawing at the water with one hoof like a dog who’s lost his bone. His back was bare and Percy was no where in sight. “Where’s Percy?”
“That’s the problem,” Jason said nervously. “He fell when Cetus went down and he hasn’t come back up yet.”
“And it’s getting dark,” Calypso added. “We should think about setting down for the night. We can’t fly the pegasi much longer, they’re already tired.”
“We can’t just leave him out here!” Annabeth said, her voice shaking and angry.
“He’s a son of Poseidon, he’ll be fine,” Calypso countered.
“Not if he’s been crushed he won’t be!”
“If he’s been crushed then what makes you think we have any hopes of getting him back?”
Annabeth said nothing, staring straight ahead, her forehead creased in angry, frustrated lines. She swallowed hard and opened her mouth as if to speak, but no sound came out. Calypso had spoken the very words no one else had dared.
“No,” Annabeth said with a breath. “No, he’s still down there, I know it. We have to wait. He’ll be right here. Something’s just holding him up, that’s all. He’s fine.”
Everyone shared cautious glances, trying to decide silently what to do. Calypso was right, that was clear for any of them to see. They couldn’t keep flying the pegasi. They were exhausted, barely able to keep their wings up. They’d have to set down, if not now, very soon.
Piper was the one to speak up next. “She’s right, Annabeth. We have to leave, but just for now. We’ll come back in the morning, once the pegasi are rested.” Annabeth looked like she wanted to protest, but she maintained her stoney expression and refused to make eye contact with any of them. “And besides,” Piper continued. “Percy will be able to find us when he does come up. He’ll know where we’ve headed, right, Leo?”
It took Leo a moment to register that she was talking to him and needed him to play along. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, there’s only one little island near here that would be a good bet. We should head there,” he said, punching some buttons on Festus’ external GPS system. “And Percy’ll know it’s there too, so it’s all good then!”
“See?” Piper continued, laying the charmspeak on thick. “You’re right, he will be fine. But we do have to leave. I’m sure he’ll be back with us before morning.”
Finally, Annabeth succumbed. She nodded, looking at Leo to lead the way, and turned with the rest of the group. He noticed out the corner of his eye, however, that she lingered a little behind the others, gazing back out over the water where Cetus had gone down, silent tears behind her eyes that she wouldn’t let escape.