Smoke on the Horizon

IX. Leo

IX. LEO

Leo hated tag. And he didn't imagine tag with a feather footed god was any more fun. So when Caerus announced the method of their death, Leo was duly excited.

"Why don't we play a little game?"

"Hey man, I'm all for games. You're looking at the gaming master. I'm like, the original Game Maker."

"Excellent!" Caerus grinned maniacally. "We shall have some fun before you die!"

Beside him, Calypso gave Leo a look that said What in Olympus are you doing? and he just gave her a reassuring smile.

Trust me.

Leo just hoped he could trust himself.

He had no clue what the god had in mind, but he knew it wouldn't be a round of Pac-Man. More than likely, it would be Chutes and Ladders - only minus the board-game piece and with a few deadly twists.

"Let's play."

His mind raced as he grasped for an escape. He looked at the limp body of Festus, still chilled in the shallow water.

The dragon had woken up before - maybe Leo could get it to happen again. He just needed more time.

"Stay right there," Caerus said. "I'll be right back." He turned on his little wings and sped off across the water.

"What's the plan?" Calypso said as soon as Caerus was gone.

"No idea."

She stared at him. "You mean to tell me that you said all that and don't have a plan?"

Leo shrugged. "I'm better at improv than forethought. Let's just say that I'll figure something out."

She groaned. "Wonderful."

Leo turned his attention back to Festus.

"Come on," he said, walking into the water up to his waist and around to the dragon's back. "Help me move him."

It was easier said than done.

Parts of Festus had taken on water and made him even heavier than normal.

Together, they managed to move him a few feet, just enough to get most of his back and head onto the shore. Out of breath, it appeared that they'd get no further and Leo called it good.

He leaned over his friend and opened the hatch. At a loss, he decided to try the fire trick again. It was the most obvious and easiest option, therefore

Leo knew it would probably never work again, but it was worth a shot.

This time, Festus didn't stir. Leo was about to give up and try something else when the bronze began to creak from the change in temperature and the plating shuddered beautiful.

The great dragon was alive, and Leo was determined to wake him up from his nap. Before he could however, Calypso urgently prodded his shoulder. He turned to see Caerus hurtling back towards them, carrying nothing but a length of coiled rope and a tall glass of what appeared to be lemonade.

"Now we are ready!" He took a long swig from the glass and smacked his lips in enjoyment.

"Don't give him any opportunities," Leo muttered.

"Is that a joke?" Calypso whispered.

"Yes and no." Leo marched up to the water's edge to meet the god of

opportunity halfway.

"Lemonade?" Caerus held out his glass.

"Sorry, no thanks. I've never been a fan of lemonade. Even the pink kind. Always seems to be too sweet."

Caerus smirked. "Whatever you say, Game Maker." Leo bowed deeply, putting on a show. He had to keep Caerus occupied and as entertained as possible if they were going to make it out of this.

"So what's the game?"

"Oh, it's quite simple. All you have to do is catch me." Caerus fingered the rope and tossed it at Calypso.

"Catch."

Calypso fumbled the bundle but managed to save it, clutching it to her chest as if it might try to escape.

Caerus laughed. "Catching me won't be as easy."

Calypso scowled and gave him a look that said it wouldn't be pleasant if she did catch him.

He downed the last of the lemonade and tossed the empty glass aside. It landed with a plink in the water, the ripples it created glittering strangely.

Leo didn't see it sink to the bottom.

"Shall we begin?"

With a high-pitched squeak, he flapped his wings and rocketed across the lake.

"So we tie him with the rope?" Calypso said sarcastically, holding out the coil.

"Uh-huh, one problem though. We need to catch him first," Leo said, turning back to Festus.

Calypso watched him intently. "What are you doing? We have to get Caerus.

That dragon isn't going to be any help to us now."

Leo didn't answer. It was a long shot, he knew, but like earlier, their lives probably depended on its success. "I have to try."

He set to work warming Festus's body and keeping most of it out of the frigid water. He pulled tools from his belt at random, anything that might do the job. Nothing seemed to be working. He used his fire more than once, desperately willing life into the beast.

Calypso gently placed her hand on his shoulder and tugged for him to get up. "It's no use, Leo. We have to go."

Leo said nothing and slumped back on his knees. He knew she was right. He rose, trying for a smile, and he and Calypso ran after Caerus.

Behind them, something stirred in the water until it erupted into a twenty foot steam filled geyser. They didn't stick around to find out what had made it. Another blast, this time like creaking metal, shot towards them. Leo didn't turn to see what it was. He took Calypso's hand and they plunged into the tree line.

It didn't take long for them to find Caerus. The babyfaced god was hovering in a small grove of pine trees, swigging lemonade and making a new pitcher from the ripe fruit that was growing on a lush lemon tree.

"I thought lemons grew in the South," Leo said.

Caerus gave a small, disappointed scowl, but didn't answer.

Instead, he stood, actually stood on the ground. His little wings had stopped moving Leo noticed and now the man's feet shifted uncomfortably on the dirt, unaccustomed to its feel.

"Have you come up with a wonderful plan to capture me, then?" He sounded pleased and a bit bored with the prospect. Leo suspected he'd heard plenty of wonderful plans before.


"No," Leo said simply.

"No? How do you intend to win if you have no plan?"

Leo shrugged and didn't answer.

"Very well, let's see how well you can play then." Immediately, the lemon tree began sprouting leaves and fruit at random, long vines creeping down from its branches.

The tendrils crawled along the ground, headed straight for Leo and Calypso. Leo began blasting them with fire, sending them shriveling back to the tree.

Caerus shot by them, tapping Leo roughly on the shoulder before swiveling midair and stopping a few hundred feet away.

"I guess I'm it," Leo grumbled. The god was fast though, and Leo couldn't figure how they were possibly going to lasso him with their little rope.

Meanwhile, the vines continued to grow around them, tripping them at every turn. They decided to approach Caerus, though every time they got close, he flew past them again and stopped just out of reach.

Soon, there were more vines twisting their way beneath their feet than Leo could keep at bay. Some must have been learning, because his hands were quickly bound as soon as he let his guard down. Now Caerus stopped and sat down on a branch of his lemon tree.

The vines looped around Leo until his legs and arms were tightly constrained. Stray leafy tendrils seemed to lose their way as he and Calypso were consumed, and, in an effort to look useful, entangled themselves amongst the rocks and tied each other up instead of their captives.

Caerus either didn't notice or didn't care.

Leo didn't point it out.

He found it curious though, how the seemingly alive plant-life was so indiscriminate about what it clung to. He realized that Caerus only had the ability to enchant it. The god couldn't actually control what it did, or who it tied up.

Maybe, Leo thought. But he'd need Caerus to come closer.

"So that thing was about you?"

"What?" Caerus scowled in confusion.

"You know, the whole When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." The vines around Leo's waist loosened ever so slightly.

Caerus nodded slowly.

"Huh. Never cared much for lemons. Why wasn't it like, oranges or something? Or bananas? Got some bananas, make yourself a banana split."

Caerus sighed and rubbed his face like he'd just woken up from a bad dream, or into one. "Because. People already like oranges. And lemons has a nice ring to it. Stop asking questions. You are annoying." The vines tightened but relaxed just as quickly, as if they couldn't make up their mind. They acted as if they were annoyed with Leo too. Leo kept talking.

"Tell me about it, man. Sometimes I annoy myself. But I'm not complaining. I think I'm pretty great. I just love to hear myself talk is all. Is that really so bad?"

"Yes."

"But they're all like, Shut up, Leo, and Just stop and fly the dragon, and I'm just like, Hey guys, it's all chill - "

"Dragon?" Caerus looked up from his lemonade.

"Oh yeah, Festus. I made him, but too bad he's broken now. We crashed." Leo put on the saddest, most devastated expression he could muster.

Caerus must have bought it.

While he was distracted, the vines continued to loosen around Leo until he was able to wriggle his hands out of his bonds. The god turned away, oblivious and obviously annoyed that he'd shown any interest.

"So what do you plan to do with us?"

"Let you die," Caerus said simply. "Slowly, of course. Death from lost opportunity is always the best death. The slowest. You don't realize you're dying from it until you're practically standing at Judgement." He stepped closer as he spoke, until eventually he was staring Leo in the face from three feet away. There was no way it was this easy.

"Ah, got it." Leo took up the vines that had gone slack and held them at the ready. "But you see, I'm not dying from lost opportunity."

"Yes, that's what they all say."

"I've taken every one I've been handed." Before Caerus saw Leo's trap, Leo threw the vines at the god. Caerus's panic fed them, making them grow longer and loop tighter than before, entangling the god and leaving him struggling beneath a heap of lemon leaves and plump fruit.

Leo stood back and admired his work. He helped Calypso free herself and torched a few vines that tried to snare them again.

"So what now?" Calypso said, brushing leaves from her hair. "How do we get out of here?"

She was answered by a massive creak, like the world's largest revolving door was in need of a good oiling.

Festus sprang from the tree line, smoke billowing behind him like some great bronze angel falling to earth.

Leo grinned. "That, Sunshine, would be how we get out of here."

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