I Blow Myself (and Reyna) Away
The clouds started to gather when we'd been on the road for two hours. They were heavy with rain, almost purple on top, even though it was early in the day.
Bobby leaned his head out the window and looked up at the clouds. "Storm's definitely coming. Can you smell it, Jason?"
"I think anyone with a nose can smell all that rain," I told him. In fact, I could also smell ozone and the queer electrical charge of a lightning storm. The hairs on my arms were standing partway up, and I felt like the whole sky was about to open and let out howling winds and rolling thunder.
That's your father, talking to you.
I shook my head. If that was a memory of my mother, it didn't fit with the ones I was absolutely sure of. Had I been scared of storms once? I didn't remember. I think I always looked up at them and wanted to sail into the winds. I remember once, when I was very small at Camp Jupiter, not long after I joined the Fifth Cohort, that I went out with the family of one of the big kids. I think it was a girl named Tessa Brink, some level of descent from Veritas. She'd been a nice but kind of flighty girl, and she had appointed herself my babysitter in chief, declaring that I obviously needed a sister, since I had made one up in my memory. She petted me and fawned over me and even almost ten years later, I remembered that I did feel like she could be a sister. She was like my sister, my real sister, who had once petted me exactly that way.
I remember thinking of my sister a lot then. In fact, I thought of her a lot until I was about six, and then, somehow, she started to seem far away, and I started to look more at the others around me as my real family. I'd thought of her again, out of the blue, this summer. I woke up early in the morning, before dawn, dreaming about her. I took the tee shirt out of my footlocker and stared at her writing. I couldn't remember what suddenly brought her to mind while I was sleeping -- I guess I must have been dreaming about being small -- but I sat there, holding my baby shirt and staring at the marker on it and thinking,I have a sister and she is real. Then someone played reveille, and the day went on, and I didn't think of it again.
Except that, obviously, I was thinking about it, instead of thinking about…
What was it?
Tessa Brink. Tessa Brink and the lightning.
Anyway, we'd gone into Berkley, and I saw a mom taking picture after picture of her baby in the park. It was a cloudy day, and the flash kept going off. Later, when the storm broke, I saw the lightning and said -- out loud, to my embarrassment -- "Daddy took my picture!"
Tessa's parents goggled and said that it was just so, and wasn't I think cutest thing, and what smart sons Lord Jupiter had, and wasn't it just precious that I was at the camp named after him, and they didn't stop. They just kept looking at me, then looking up at the sky like they expected my father to start snapping their picture to go in some divine photo album. I went back to dinner with them, and they kept talking about my father this, and my father that, and I felt like someone had turned on a spotlight and wasn't letting me out of it.
After that, I didn't go to see Tessa's parents with her anymore, and after a while, she stopped pretending to be my sister. I also stopped talking about my father and the lightning storms.
I remember thinking, My real sister would have made them stop doing that. She'd have laughed.
I'm still pretty sure that's true. Whoever wrote "Death to Disney Princesses" on my tee shirt would probably not be thinking about Lord Jupiter snapping pictures for his memory book.
I shook my head. That memory had come out of nowhere, and it wasn't much fun.
Dakota leaned forward. "Those clouds are pretty purple," he said. "It could be my dad."
"In the storm?" Bobby asked.
Dakota shrugged. "Or Aeolus. Master of the winds. Supposedly, he makes things glow purple if he's docked above them."
"Or maybe they're just really full rain clouds," Reyna said. "We are around a temperate rainforest. It doesn't have to mean anything."
"I don't know if we can take her to camp after all," Bobby said, shaking his head ruefully. "Romans think everything means something. Romans and omens. We go together like… other stuff that rhymes."
"Cats and hats," Dakota offered. "Stars and bars. Bobby and slobby."
"Shut up," Bobby said.
I rolled my eyes. "This is what you're getting yourself into," I told Reyna.
She smiled and blinked a lot, then looked out the window.
The SUV kept rolling north. I couldn't think of anything useful to do with navigation, so I decided to get our weapons cleaned up and sharpen the blades. Juno's gift hadn't exactly included an armory (she was more about picnics than pila, I guess) but it was big enough to at least tend to what we already had without slamming my elbows into anyone.
Reyna dug up a more powerful pair of binoculars that were stashed with Juno's travel supplies, and kept an eye out toward the sea, even though Route 101 was at least a bit inland for most of the trip. The sea was visible, and she wanted to keep an eye out for the pirates.
The new SUV had a state of the art sound system, and Dakota picked a dance station out of Portland, bopping along as he drove. "I'm a son of Bacchus," he announced, after his third flask full of hyper-sweetened Kool Aid. "I can make a party out of anything!" The he laughed wildly.
"Dakota's a man of many talents," I explained. "I'm kind of wondering about the fact that we haven't stopped for gas, honestly. Are you keeping the tank full, party lord?"
"Party Lord is my dad's name," he said. "You can just call me Prince of the Dance." He took one hand off the wheel and pointed up at the ceiling, like some seventies disco star.
Reyna only gave this a slight smile. I wondered if she'd spotted something with the binoculars. "What about you, Bobby? Anything but horse taming?"
Bobby was staring morosely out the window, and it occurred to me that we'd lost his father's farm truck. The new SUV wasn't going to be useful for that, and Juno had given it to the camp, not to Mr. Botolph.
"Bobby's great with a pilum," I said. "And he can keep a defensive line together better than anyone else in the cohort. Though I guess that's not too different from herding unicorns."
"Demigods are harder than unicorns," Bobby said.
"But you're great at it. It's not easy to keep them marching when the water cannons start going off."
"We've never made it all the way to the wall," he pointed out.
That was because the rest of the camp liked to put the Fifth in the sacrificial position, but I decided not to push it. I could see that the compliment had gotten through to him at least a little bit, and going further might start sounding desperate.
"Jason knows what all of us are good for," Dakota says. "Except for himself."
"I'm pretty good at lots of things!" I protested.
"Remember how he said yesterday that he couldn't summon lightning? Right before he summoned lightning?"
"Fluke," I said, grimacing, not wanting to have this conversation again. I hoped they wouldn't decide to spread it around camp when we got back. I had a feeling that by the time they were done, I'd be wielding the actual lightning bolt.
"And ask him about his 'good luck' with the wind."
Reyna looked at me, vaguely interested. "Good luck?"
"My dad is lord of the sky. Maybe he sends me a lucky breeze now and then."
"And he used to say he could fly," Bobby said. "Don't forget that."
"She can't forget if you tell her the same story every day," I pointed out.
"Can you?" Reyna asked. "I mean, for real. And if you can… don't you… I mean, wouldn't it be helpful to your legion?"
I shifted uncomfortably. The lightning bolt back at the farm had been one thing. Weird, but maybe not completely out of the ballpark. People could do weird things in stressful situations. But no demigod could fly, at least not that I ever heard of. That would be too weird, even for a son of Jupiter. I don't even remember stories about Jupiter flying, at least not without a chariot dragged by the winds.
Reyna didn't wait for me to answer. She'd said her piece. She just looked back through the binoculars then suddenly yelled, "Dakota! Left! Take a left! The beach!"
There hadn't been many left turns as we passed the Ocean Spray Cranberry bogs, but there was one coming up. Dakota screeched onto it.
"What is it?" I asked.
"The ship! It's out there, and it's foundering!"
Bobby sat up. "The monster? We're not at Winchester Bay yet, that's almost another hour up the coast."
"I doubt sea monsters care about town lines," I said. "Dakota, drive smart. I'll get armor and weapons for you. The rest of us will gear up."
There was no argument.
Reyna had actually come better armed than any of us. She had two carving knives and a short sword in the bag she'd brought from the farm. Apparently, her fashion sense prioritized weapons over clothes. She didn't have any armor, so I gave her my breast plate.
"What about you?" she asked. "Do you think the girl needs the armor and -- "
"No, I think the one who hasn't had legion training might benefit from it. Remember?" I raised my eyebrows at her, hoping she remembered that I'd beaten her pretty soundly when she tried to kidnap us.
"Fine," she muttered resentfully, pulling on the breastplate. It was no great shakes, and it might not work for her once her chest got a different shape, but for now, it was the best we could do.
Dakota swung into a beachside parking lot. Even at this time of year, there were a few people parked there, enjoying the beach (which was, I have to admit, truly awesome), but no one on the beach seemed to notice what was going on in the water, or maybe the mist turned it into some kind of freak pocket storm.
The pirates' ship, the one we'd seen coming down the coast as we drove, must have turned around and come back, because it was out there, beyond the standing rocks. Long, black tentacles rose up out of the water and punched at it, breaking masts like kindling for a fire. With a swell of the sea, a huge head broke the waves, black and armored, with red eyes I could see even from here, which meant they had to be about the size of hubcaps up close.
Several dinghies were foundering toward the shore, and a modern motorboat was circling aimlessly among them, having lost its rider. Some pirates had wisely just abandoned ship, but others seemed to have tried to rescue whatever treasure they had. One dinghy was dragging a raft with a pile of gold and silver tied up in a net.
I ran for the water, flipping Ivlivs as I went. It came down as a golden pilum.
A cold, hard wave slapped me back, and I thought, Not the sea, please not the sea, the sea hates me…
But I was going after a sea serpent. I couldn't exactly expect to spend the quest on a mountaintop.
Reyna made it into the surf first, her blades drawn. She floundered toward the motorboat.
"The engine could chop her up!" Bobby yelled.
"Do you have a better idea?" I asked him. "Because I'm open."
He didn't. He and Dakota both went into the water. It accepted them faster than it would accept me, apparently, because as soon as I tried putting another toe in, I was knocked off of my feet.
I rolled back on the wet sand and stared out. Reyna was getting close to the outer edge of the motorboat's lazy, uncontrolled loops.
If it would just get a little closer, if the water would just bend a little…
A wind came across the saltwater, carrying the stench of the monster, and I saw the way it rippled the surface of the sea.
Maybe enough for a little boat.
Maybe… maybe I could have some good luck. Maybe I could…
I held up my hand, feeling exquisitely stupid, and said, "Wind! Boat!" Something brilliant like that, anyway. We weren't at Hogwarts, and I didn't know some magical pseudo-Latin spell for "Let's make the wind blow a little ocean swell this way." Nothing happened. I decided to try it in real Latin. "Zephyrus!" I yelled, hoping the west wind would guess what I was hoping for from that direction.
A breeze -- not a violent wind, but a strong, warm breeze -- came up over the water, pushing a gentle swell over the waves.
The motorboat leaned to that side, and the water rolled it over to Reyna.
She grabbed the side and pulled herself on board, tipping it up badly for a second. I was sure the beating of the motor would pulverize someone, but she killed it, and the boat slammed back down. She waited a minute, then started it again and, at the end of splashing tail, took it to Bobby and Dakota.
"Come on!" she yelled to me. Well, I couldn't hear her, but I assumed that's what she meant.
I made myself take another step into the water as she pushed the motorboat back to me, into the shallows.
I fought the waves enough to get to where she could get to me, and Bobby yanked me into the boat.
"Neptune's not happy with you?" he asked.
I'd never been opposed by Neptune before, at least not with this kind of strength. "Guess not," I said. "I guess he doesn't like us going for his pet sea serpent."
Reyna had gunned the engine again, and we passed pirates and rafts full of treasure, heading out toward the foundering ship just as a tentacle wrapped around it and crushed it, pulling the whole thing underwater.
It didn't stop. The tentacles slipped out all around us, snapping at the escape dinghies, pushing the water into dangerous fans, like an extremely large spoiled brat causing trouble in the baths.
A tentacle flew overhead and I jumped for it.
I caught it, my arms wrapped around the length of it near the end, but I don't know what I thought was going to do. All I could do was hang on as it thrashed up into the sky. My pilum was held in one hand, but my hand wasn't free to strike.
I looked down at the boat, far below. Dakota and Bobby were looking up, their mouths making little red ovals, like cartoon characters.
Reyna grabbed her blades and then Dakota was at the wheel of the boat and Bobby was waving a gladius.
The tentacle spasmed, dragging me in an arc across the waves. I looked down and saw Reyna, her knives digging into the skin, climbing the tentacle like it was a tree. A tree that she apparently wanted dead.
The end of the thing twitched violently and I lost hold.
I was free falling. I called to Zephyrus again, hoping that maybe a little western breeze might help me get down more softly. I felt the air slide under me, and I spread my arms wildly, trying to fall like I was skydiving, and I expected my parachute to open at any moment.
Something must have worked, because I didn't land too badly. I just happened to land on the main body of the monster, near the end of the tentacle, about ten feet beneath Reyna, my pilum still in my hand. Above me, a giant red eye burned in the gray light of the day.
Bobby and Dakota buzzed in under one of the arched tentacles. Dakota slashed at the monster's body, but his gladius just clanged against the armor-like surface.
"How'd you stab it?" he yelled up at Reyna.
"Under the suckers!" she called back. "Only on the -- "
But she was whipped further away as the monster thrashed,
Bobby stared at the solid black wall in front of him. Nothing for him to stab under.
Dakota took the boat around to the far side.
Whatever we did, I guessed we'd have to do it quickly. Sooner or later, the monster would realize that it could just take all of us underwater and drown us. Maybe the wreck of the ship was still there in the way. Maybe it still had dinghies to crash. Whatever reason it had for staying at the surface, it wouldn't last forever.
Under the suckers, Reyna had said. She'd gotten purchase on the tentacle that way.
I could only think of one part of the monster that I could get under.
I scrambled up the smooth face, trusting the wind at my back to keep me cushioned, and grabbed hold of the lower part of the creature's eye.
It bucked wildly, trying to toss me off.
I held on with the fingertips of my left hand and brought up Ivlivs with as much force as I had, driving it into the soft, red meat of the monster's eye.
It must have hurt, but I couldn't tell if it was a major injury, or the monster equivalent of stepping barefoot on a loose Lego brick.
It howled and smashed its tentacles against the waves. One thrashing tentacle shoved the motorboat into the air, pushing it further out to sea.
"Jason!" Reyna yelled. "We have to get out of here!"
"Let go!" I shouted. "Get down!"
She yanked out her blades and free fell as I had.
I raised my hand, the way I had at the wave earlier, and tried thinking about the winds. It didn't work quite as well, and she landed beside me with a decided "thud," wincing at the pain of it.
"Sorry!" I said.
"No, you got me. I just didn't have far enough for the wind to catch me."
I almost argued by instinct that I hadn't done it, that it was just luck, but that wasn't true, and I knew it. I had done it on purpose, and it had almost worked.
I nodded, distracted. "We have to get the boat back. This thing's going to --"
But there was no plan. There was no rescue.
A tentacle reached down and plucked us from the monster's face. We were clinging to the sucker at the very tip of it, and it thrust us upward into the sky.
The sea shrank away at dizzying speeds and the Oregon coast stretched out before us in a whirling, sickening turning line of rocks.
At the top of the tentacle's reach, it straightened out in a sudden lurch, shaking us free the way I might flick a drop of water from the tip of my finger.
For a minute, we continued to go up. I saw the black clouds, and the strange purple light above them.
Then, I started to drop, passing Reyna as she hit the top of her own arc.
I reached out and grabbed her. It most likely would only make us fall faster, but from this height, hitting the ocean at any speed would be like hitting the sidewalk, even if we did miss the rocks.
I yelled for the wind this time. I didn't call for any particular breeze, or hope for anything at all. I just screamed to the sky. Reyna grasped her hands around my neck, and I thrust my arms out to either side, thinking in some vague way that I would need to flap like a bird.
Something seemed to slam into my feet.
It wasn't my imagination, because Reyna's legs, dangling a little below mine as we fell, were pushed up.
It was like geyser of air.
The fall slowed.
Reyna and I were hanging seventy feet above the ocean. Below us, I saw the motorboat come around, but smoke was pouring out of the engine. Bobby was standing at the stern, looking up at us. Dakota was trying to maneuver around the wreckage, but I could see him sneaking glances.
Then another tentacle swung upward and hit us like a steel beam, knocking us off of the column of air.
I kept hold of Reyna and I did the only thing I could think of. I yelled again, willing every wind there was to get us away from the monster.
I didn't really think about what that meant.
The wind caught hold of us in midair and swept us upward, through the cold, wet clouds, into the purple glow above them. We should have frozen, or had the oxygen ripped from our lungs by the pressure change, but the winds cocooned us, holding in warm autumn air.
"Jason…." Reyna said, and lifted her chin weakly toward a spot behind me.
I looked over my shoulder.
Hanging in the air above Bandon Beach was a free-floating mountaintop, with stairs up the sides that descended into nothing. It gave off a faint, purple glow, and the caves and slopes all seemed to be wild with wind.
The palace of Aeolus.
I looked down at the field of clouds below us. I didn't know how far out to sea we were. I didn't know how to get the winds to set us down gently. I didn't even know how long they'd let me keep us afloat up here.
In short, I didn't see any other options.
I grabbed Reyna's hand, hoped the winds would obey me, and yanked her up toward the floating palace.