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[KYRA]

KYRA SOON WOKE UP TO THE SOUND OF SCREAMING

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KYRA SOON WOKE UP TO THE SOUND OF SCREAMING. They spiraled through the dark in a free fall, still on the dragon's back, but Festus's hide was cold. His ruby eyes were dim.

"Not again!" Leo yelled from in front of her, "You can't fall again!"

Jason had his arms wrapped around her as she watched Leo pull open the panel on the dragon's neck. He toggled the switches. He tugged the wires. The dragon's wings flapped once, but Festus didn't have the strength to keep flying.

Kyra gulped as she saw the lights of a city below them—just flashes in the dark as they plummeted in circles. They had only seconds before they crashed.

Leo turned to them, "Jason!" he screamed. "Take Kyra and Piper and fly out of here!"

"What?"

"We need to lighten the load! I might be able to reboot Festus, but he's carrying too much weight!"

"What about you?" Kyra cried "If you can't reboot him—"

"I'll be fine," Leo yelled. "Just follow me to the ground. Go!"

Jason used one arm to hold onto Kyra and the other to grab Piper around the waist. The three unbuckled their harnesses, and in a flash they were gone—shooting into the air. Kyra watched in fear as Leo tried to fix Festus.

"He's going to hit the ground." Kyra gasped before a laser from a mansion nearby shot out and an explosion filled their vision, "Leo!"

Jason quickly flew to the ground and they rushed over to where the son of Hephaestus was lying unconscious. Kyra looked around and noticed the head of Festus, but nothing else, "He's not going to be happy about this."

She made her way over to Jason and Piper, who were leaning over him. He was lying in the snow, covered in mud and grease. Leo suddenly opened his eyes and he spit a clump of frozen grass out of his mouth, "Where—"

"Lie still." Piper had tears in her eyes. "You rolled pretty hard when—when Festus—"

"Where is he?" Leo sat up, but his head felt like it was floating. They'd landed inside the compound.

"Seriously, Leo," Jason said. "You could be hurt. You shouldn't—"

Leo pushed himself to his feet. Then he saw the wreckage. Festus must have dropped the big canary cages as he came over the fence, because they'd rolled in different directions and landed on their sides, perfectly undamaged.

Festus hadn't been so lucky.

The dragon had disintegrated. His limbs were scattered across the lawn. His tail hung on the fence. The main section of his body had plowed a trench twenty feet wide and fifty feet long across the mansion's yard before breaking apart. What remained of his hide was a charred, smoking pile of scraps. Only his neck and head were somewhat intact, resting across a row of frozen rosebushes like a pillow.

"No," Leo sobbed. He ran to the dragon's head and stroked its snout. The dragon's eyes flickered weakly. Oil leaked out of his ear. "You can't go," Leo pleaded. "You're the best thing I ever fixed."

The dragon's head whirred its gears, as if it were purring. Jason, Kyra, and Piper stood next to him, but Leo kept his eyes fixed on the dragon, "It's not fair," he said.

The dragon clicked. Long creak. Two short clicks. Creak. Creak. Almost like a pattern ... triggering an old memory in Leo's mind. Kyra realized Festus was trying to say something to Leo. Kind of like Morse code. Leo listened more intently, translating the clicks into letters: a simple message repeating over and over.

"Yeah," Leo said. "I understand. I will. I promise."

The dragon's eyes went dark. Festus was gone.

Leo cried. And they stood on either side of him, patting his shoulders, saying comforting things. Maybe he could rebuild Festus when they got back to camp.

Finally Jason said, "I'm so sorry, man. What did you promise Festus?"

Leo sniffled. He opened the dragon's head panel, just to be sure, but the control disk was cracked and burned beyond repair, "Something my dad told me," Leo said. "Everything can be reused."

"Your dad talked to you?" Kyra asked, "When was this?"

Leo didn't answer. He worked at the dragon's neck hinges until the head was detached. It weighed about a hundred pounds, but Leo managed to hold it in his arms. He looked up at the starry sky and said, "Take him back to the bunker, Dad. Please, until I can reuse him. I've never asked you for anything."

The wind picked up, and the dragon's head floated out of Leo's arms like it weighed nothing. It flew into the sky and disappeared. Piper looked at him in amazement. "He answered you?"

"I had a dream," Leo managed to say "Tell you later."

Kyra knew he needed a moment, and didn't pressure him into saying anything. She looked around. The large white mansion glowed in the center of the grounds. Tall brick walls with lights and security cameras surrounded the perimeter, but now Kyra could see just how well those walls were defended.

"Where are we?" Leo asked. "I mean, what city?"

"Omaha, Nebraska," Piper answered, "I saw a billboard as we flew in. But I don't know what this mansion is. We came in right behind you, but as you were landing, Leo, I swear it looked like—I don't know—"

"Lasers," Leo finished. He picked up a piece of dragon wreckage and threw it toward the top of the fence. Immediately a turret popped up from the brick wall and a beam of pure heat incinerated the bronze plating to ashes.

Jason whistled. "Some defense system. How are we even alive?"

"Festus," Leo said miserably. "He took the fire. The lasers sliced him to bits as he came in so they didn't focus on you. I led him into a death trap."

"You couldn't have known," Kyra replied, putting her hand on his shoulder to comfort him, "He saved our lives again."

"But what now?" Jason asked, "The main gates are locked, and I'm guessing I can't fly us out of here without getting shot down."

Leo looked up the walkway at the big white mansion. "Since we can't go out, we'll have to go in."

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