Smoke on the Horizon

V. Leo

V. LEO

Leo had always wanted to visit Maine. It was the pointy rocks of death he could have done without.

Leo woke to Calypso shaking him furiously and screaming his name.

He would have made a snarky comment about how she never seemed to stop that, but in less time than it would have taken him to think up said comment he realized they were plummeting through the air. Down. Fast.

The good news : there was land.

The bad news : on that land was a rocky outcropping of jagged, deadly sharp stone pillars jutting out of the center of a valley.

The worst news : they had left the ocean behind long ago.

At first, Leo figured he could have maneuvered Festus just enough to land in the water (sure, they’d probably still never survive the impact, but at least they wouldn’t be torn apart by rocks which gave them a slight advantage) but that plan wouldn’t work now.

Leo’s mind spun - literally - as he tried to form a plan.

If they kept going at this speed, they would slam into those rocks and be destroyed. The question was, how could they slow down, or at the very least change direction?

Festus’s body had gone cold. Moving him did not appear to be an option. In order to move, the metal dragon needed heat : an energy source.

Leo flung open the maintenance hatch and fumbled through the heaps of wiring. Smoke billowed from the opening and into Leo’s face. He coughed and waved it away the best he could, but the toxic fumes were the least of his worries.

Festus the dragon had overheated.

“Well that’s a new one,” he said through gritted teeth as he looped the melted ends of wires over each other like some complicated hair style.

For one brief second, Leo thought he’d done it. A single spark caught between two cables, but it died just as quickly as it’d come.

Leo cursed and chanced a look at their surroundings.

It would have been beautiful had they not been traveling over ninety miles an hour.

Green hills rolled out on either side of them, tall pine trees dotted the landscape and a small lake sat in the middle of a larger clearing to the west.

A lake.

Leo had a crazy idea, but if it worked it might save all their lives. If it didn’t…well. He wasn’t about to think on the alternative.

But he still needed fire power to get Festus to move.

His hands burst into flame - hot, angry fire that licked its way up his arms and singed the already charred teeshirt he wore.

Leo thrust one into the hatch and waited.

One second.

Two.

Three.

The bronze shuddered.

Leo yanked his hand free and pulled with all his might on Festus’s head.

The great metal dragon groaned and tilted ever so slightly to the west. But it wasn’t enough. Suddenly, the stones in the valley below were racing past beneath them, ten feet from Festus at the most. If they hit one, they were doomed.

They were dropping faster with each second they were in the air.

Leo tugged again, desperate to get the big lug to move.

Festus lurched and Leo willed himself to hold on as the wind picked up and was disrupted by the pillars that seemed to creep up around them.

Suddenly though, they began to ascend.

But that was impossible…Festus was out for the count, wasn’t he?

Leo didn’t have time to comprehend what was happening, and the dragon tilted again to the west. Leo was sure they were going to go into a downward spiral. They were dead for sure. He turned his head to look at Calypso, but anything he would have said would have been lost in the whipping wind. Her face was buried in his back, her arms tight around his waist, holding on for dear life.

“It’ll be alright, Sunshine,” he said softly.

Miraculously, Festus leveled out and they began a much smoother, almost controlled descent. If Leo hadn’t known better, he would have thought his friend was still awake…

Festus raised his head and they soared until the clear water of the lake was less than twenty feet below, and they turned in a sharp dive.

Leo had just enough time to hold his breath and reach back to clamp his hand over Calypso’s mouth before they crashed.

The water was shallow, only coming up to Festus’s neck, and the two passengers easily waded to shore. The dragon crumpled as steam rippled off him in plumes. Leo stood on the bank and stared at the beast in amazement.

“Wh…what happened?” Calypso asked shakily, running the water out of her caramel hair.

Leo shook his head. “If I had to guess, I’d say I’m not the only one who’s come back from the dead today.”

“Indeed,” a voice echoed across the water to them. “Well, well, well. This is quite exciting, isn’t it?”

The man stood on the opposite side of the lake, watching them intently, dragging the tips of his toes through the icy water.

“Who are you?” Leo said. He was by far the strangest looking person he’d ever seen. The man had a single tuft of curly blond hair atop his otherwise bald head like some overgrown baby, and as he stood he walked on the tips of his toes, his feet seeming not to even touch the ground.

Then Leo noticed that his feet weren’t touching the ground. The blond baby-man had a small pair of tawny feathered wings that sprouted from the base of his heels and fluttered madly as they propelled him forward.

“Oh, what a question.” He said it like it brought him pain. “What a question. People pray to me and they don’t even know it. Oh please let me make it through this! Let me ace my algebra test today! Let me win that bet! Let us land in that lake down there!” At the last statement he directed his gaze directly at Leo, his eyes intense like Leo should be coming up with the answer to his question on his own.

“So, your name?”

“I am Caerus!” the god yelled, blowing across the lake until he stood directly in front of Leo and Calypso.

“Oh, yeah. Caerus! Of course! Didn’t recognize you for a second, man. Looking good!”

“Bah, enough,” Caerus spat. “Don’t even bother. No one knows me. God of opportunity and it’s like I don’t even exist.”

“So, every time someone really wants something, or needs good luck or something, they pray to you?”

“Well yes, in theory that is. People pray, sometimes I oblige, but they don’t actually know they’re praying or who they’re praying to.” Caerus sighed. “It’s all very sad really - all those blind hopes finding me in their foolish desperation. What they don’t realize is that I simply produce the opportunity. They are the ones who must take it.”

Leo thought about all of the times he had desperately wanted something. Before he came to camp Half Blood, hoping to God for that dirt bike XL when he was five, or that everything would be okay for his mother. Only when he thought about it now did he realize they had been blind as Caerus said. He had no idea what ‘god’ he was talking to, “God” with a big G or no.

“So why did you help us?” Leo asked. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like the answer.

Caerus gave a low, growl-like chuckle. “Why to kill you, of course!”

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